Connecting with Others, Our Families, Ourselves
The Power of One: 25th High School Reunion
By HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson
This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion. I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire, so high school reunion meant not going back to my old home-town in the suburbs of New York City, sleeping at my parents’ house, and getting together with classmates at a local hotel banqueting room. Instead, Daisy, Will and I drove across Vermont to New Hampshire’s seacoast and stayed at the lovely ivied Inn near campus, where other classmates were converging from all over the country, and the globe.
My daughter Daisy was excited for the weekend, but she didn’t really understand why until we arrived. The campus is gorgeous. Granted, we live right by a college campus here in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, but it pales in comparison. Stately, coherent brick buildings are framed by lovely old elms and maples and oaks. Tidy colonial houses line the streets, and exuberantly happy students congregate by the library, walk together to classes, and smile at us in the dining halls. It was hard for me to say it, “I went here, I was a student here.”
The weekend was like a breath of much needed fresh air. Going about daily life: laundering, shopping, cleaning and cooking, volunteering at a museum and helping out at Daisy’s school…. I forget about myself, my personal voice, my hopes and dreams. On Saturday, Daisy went to the children’s day care program with all the other kids, and I reminisced and played with my former classmates. We talked about old memories, and our lives when everything was new and anything was possible. We had our whole futures ahead of us back then. We could dream of going to the moon, the White House, the ends of the earth. For a few hours I could forget my daily routines, and focus upon old friends, our stories, and our voices.
Of course, I couldn’t completely shake my current ‘self.’ My camera is always filled with photos of Daisy, doing this and that. I took some pictures of her at the reunion, as she raced around with new-found friends. But somehow I neglected to photograph my friends, groups of us clustered here and there, candidly and posed, as if years of photographing Daisy have eclipsed my ability to take pictures of adults. And on Friday night, after putting her to bed, I nestled along-side her and fell asleep myself, even as classmates were congregating in the hotel bar two floors down. My current 40-something body’s need for sleep somehow trumping my desire to linger with old friends. The following night, Saturday night, we managed to get Daisy to sleep and then I did slip out to the hotel bar, staying until the crazy hour of two in the morning. It was worth it, but I paid for it the next day, falling asleep on the car ride home as Daisy watched National Velvet and Will drove and listened to our new 80s mix CD.
I was wondering how Daisy would do when thrown into a brand-new mix of kids she had never met. Perhaps it’s because she is an only child, or merely just her personality, but Daisy is a natural ring leader. She was the glue that held the posse of five and six year olds together. The very first evening as the grown-ups hung around in a grassy quad catching up and waiting to go into dinner, I proudly watched Daisy take the hand of a shy girl named Madeline who was hanging back. Daisy looked right into her eyes and urged, “Come on, we’re playing hide and seek!” Madeline’s face lit up as she took off with Daisy to romp with the others. Later that weekend I learned that because of Daisy, Madeline insisted on going to the little kid’s ‘camp,’ not the bigger kids program with her older brothers, as she had earlier insisted on. Her mother was thrilled with Madeline’s new-found independence, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my outgoing, smiley-faced and friendly little girl.
I hope that Daisy continues to be so bold, so accepting of other people. As I re-visited my high school self, I remembered that I was not always so courageous or accepting. A bit insecure, I always wanted to be where the action was and I yearned for the excitement generated by others. I couldn’t study if I knew people were having fun somewhere else. I wanted to be ‘social,’ yet the currents of shyness and insecurity coursing through me held me back from making deep connections with those outside a comfortable circle of friends. Certain students intimidated me, the ultra ‘cool’ ones who seemed to have it all, looks, brains and athletic prowess; others I never spoke a word to, like the more awkward kids who preferred the walls of the computer room to the dance floor at the gym.
Perhaps inspired by Daisy’s innate boldness, I forged new connections this weekend. Recently, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I’ve connected with some of those ‘cool’ classmates, even the one I had a futile crush on for two years. At the reunion, I posed with him for a photo and thought, if my fifteen-year-old self could only have known that one day we’d be back here, and I’d be standing with my arms around HIM, smiling broadly for the camera. Though I wasn’t so bold to admit to him my teenage longings, we laughed and chatted and exchanged anecdotes. We even hugged. And then there was another classmate who had spent his time at school with a group of three or four other ‘geeks,’ writing computer programs and studying, nerds before it was fashionable. Of course, he became a successful computer programmer and even donated a great deal of money to the school, endowing a new computer center. Yet in all the time we had been at school together, we had never exchanged even a “hello” on the paths. I really wanted to talk with him, and had a brief opportunity on Sunday morning. We made eye contact, shook hands, talked, and as we made a connection, I felt the great weight of my former self lifting. My teenage being had indeed grown up. We are all friends here, we are all friends now. My daughter has helped me take chances, she has helped me become a better person.
One evening, a classmate, who perhaps had had one too many, told me I looked “beautiful.” Returning to my hotel room later that night, I gazed deep into the mirror. Did he really think so? His words continue to resonate in my head. One child and many gray hairs and wrinkles later, to be told that I looked good brought tears to my eyes. Yet, really, we all looked good: there was not a drop of pretension to be found anywhere, nobody compared earnings or boasted about accomplishments. It was nice to see the campus looking so lovely, but we all made the trek back to hang out, to relax and reminisce, to re-connect with our former selves, and most importantly, to connect with each other. After all, that’s really what life’s all about. A reunion reminds us every five years. Thankfully, Daisy continues to remind me every day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dana “Dee” Pilson
Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world. firstname.lastname@example.org