[OPINION] Meeting your class for real
At the end of last year I reluctantly attended my 30-year school reunion. I say reluctantly because it was a year before that I received the unexpected invitation. At that time I was getting fantastic results from Banting, I had lost 24kg and my health was at its peak. So why wouldn’t I meet up with my classmates?
I never felt like I was in the cool group, or the popular group and because I had such strict parents, I wasn’t in the social group either. What turned out to be my advantage was that I could navigate my way between many different friendships, and at school started my love of connecting people. Many of my friends befriended one another, but probably would not have had I not been the middle guy. I loved that, it is something that still gives me pleasure, introducing like minds and hearts to one another deliberately.
Years ago I had reaffirmed a value my parents had taught us about being who you are. not who you think people want you to be. Anyway, my life had turned into a mixed bag of happy sad, good bad and I realised it would be a case of take me or leave me, like we learned on the school playground.
In the best words: widowhood, single parenting, our son having a life-threatening illness, a second loving and happy marriage fraught with other people’s opinions and judgements... Life had basically taught me the lessons that made it possible for me to attend my class reunion with my head high, my feet in age appropriate and reasonable shoes and my little handheld fan for the striking premenopausal brow-beating sweats.
My reluctance was that I had gained all the weight that I thought defined how disciplined and in control I was. I had also subsequently been diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. Things were moving fervently in the direction of my family tree leaves and swimming in a pool of genes leading to an early death. I had everything to live for and I was in that phase of my life finding new ways to do better at living a little longer for the sake of my four children and my husband. Actually, I think having a happy marriage and happy children also supports a decision to attend what could be a calamity of a reunion because you have a safe space to dive back to.
It was to my delight to be welcomed with wide open arms by everyone there. Some of us are Facebook friends which made it easy to connect with relevant questions about life and hobbies and kids and families.
As I sat, fanning myself, I saw a room full of women whom life had levelled. There were no winners or losers, there was just us and our journeys, all incomplete, but lessons learned along the way bound us to that class of 1980 something. We were full of hopes and wishes and expectations and judgements and assurances and most of us had no idea what we wanted, but we were happy to go and find it. Most of us did, those who didn’t are still in there, sleeves up and smiles on.
Sharing stories about school and each of our perceptions was really eye opening, we were mostly insecure and looking at others as if they were better off than us, or looking down on a different group because they were not like us. It turns out we were all just winging it! I am so grateful I stepped into what I thought was going to be an uncomfortable space of achievement, success and abundance. It turned out it was. The definitions of what we all call achievement, success and abundance changes by the time you are in your late 40s.
An amazing, glorious evening spent with women who are unbreakable. Life had dealt us different cards and we were all managing to hold each other, our stories and our lives with authenticity, empathy and love. Some people have changed, some have been changed and some are keen for change. At least our aspirations are guided by our own vulnerability, our own sense of worth, our own inner strength and the support offered by a group of women who were girls together, once, long long ago.
It was quite astounding how the little girls within came out to play as we all relaxed and settled into the moment. We had all changed and transformed and we all still had a lively, happy, sad, joyful, traumatised, abused, broken, survivor, thriver little girl whom we probably let out to play for real, for the first time in all the times we were together.
There is truth in the phrase that we must look back at where we come from, without packing and living there but to measure how far we have come.
In our group we had widows, divorcees, single parents, happily married, and unhappily married, childless, child-free and child-friendly families.
The intimate stories shared around that dinner table could only have been shared in a safe space. The stories shared, even if it went back to our primary school days, some of us were only ready to hear 30 years later. So much fell into place about my classmates, about the girls they were and the women they are.
I don’t think any regrets lingered about attending that school reunion.
What I learned is that when you are in your 40s life has levelled but not capped your ambitions, expectations, your pride, your self righteousness and your judgements. We are all just people, equal in most things, but some are more spirited, determined and driven to live their best life now. Some may be hanging onto what was or what should be, the reality is we only have now.
When you show up as you are and as you are not, people see who you are. They accept you as you are and as you are not, or they don’t. If you are OK with you, nothing else really matters. These are lessons for our children at school today. Be you, do you! I will not hesitate to accept an invitation to any future class reunions. They are good for one’s soul.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn