Tuesday, July 9, 2013

7/9/13 Reunion Planning for the Dead

When the calendar rolled into 2013, being a number person, I immediately began asking around. "It's our 25th year since graduation. Are there any plans in place for a reunion?"

In 2008, when the 20th came along, someone, late in the spring, noticed and enlisted the service of a reunion planning group to put it together. The organizers put together your basic big, semi-empty ballroom in a generic hotel thing, with a DJ, a small amount of food, and a cash bar, for something like $60 bucks a person. This was also before Facebook, in the days where MySpace reigned and it was much more difficult to locate people based on their high school. Quite a few people, in the Facebook years that followed, said they'd never received anything alerting them to the 20th reunion and missed it entirely, save for the pictures others posted after the fact.

Now, in 2013, with a sizeable portion of the world on Facebook and re-connected with old classmates, it would seem easier to get the word out about a reunion. So I created a group and added everyone I could find from the Dobie Class of 1988 to it, assuming one of the class officers might pipe up with what the plans were, or might be, etc.

Instead, as the group creator, I found myself putting together surveys and counting tallies and getting the ball rolling. Serves me right for starting something. 

I really didn't mind. If it was something I wanted to do, why not be the one getting it done? Save for the fact that I'm 1000 miles away and not terribly up to date on the best places to have a reunion...

The survey showed that the people willing to take the survey wanted something cheap and relaxed: no hotel ballrooms or dry chicken or expensive tickets to commit to. It also showed that the majority of the respondents could more easily attend in late summer, before school started for a lot of their kids, but far enough into it that many of the family vacations had already been taken. That meant Houston in early August. We were not born into a geographically kind high school class, except for maybe two days in the middle of January. 

I was saved by getting a message from an alum in the '89 class who had put together a pub crawl for her 20th class reunion a few years ago and had contacts and templates and stuff I couldn't possibly put together from Colorado without a lot of effort and time. 

I've posted things to encourage people to attend, regardless of how old they feel, or disconnected, or fat, or whatever they use to beat themselves up over. I've even extended to invitation to any hired assassins, as long as they promise not to kill anybody. 

So we're a few weeks away, Paypal monies collected, commemorative cups ordered and shipped, lanyard badges with map and schedule being laminated,  even a candy bar wrapper put together for printing. I've begged for photos from our graduating class and then took things into my own hands and scanned the entire yearbook myself to beef up the slideshow. 

But what's really eating at me is the end of that show. 

It's where photographs of our classmates who have died will display. In a class of over 500, the early deaths of some of us is inevitable, but still sad. There are 18 names on the list (that we know of). Of those 18, some will not even have a single picture to represent them, since they weren't in the senior yearbook and I have no leads on family that might supply something. Or, in a few cases, family that said they'd send something and haven't. From others, I have scads of pictures. The juxtaposition of the few who are represented in full color, smiling, holding babies, hugging loved ones in picture after picture, against a stark slide of "Not Pictured" names is making me a little crazy (-er). 

And I'm not really sure why. 

I didn't know any of the people I can't locate. Their names don't ring any bells, at all. And maybe that's the point. 

It's as though they don't exist for me. 

And I want them to. 

I want to see a face and spark a memory, if not my memory, then someone else who knew them. Even now, when people read the names on the list for the first time, someone responds with, "I had no idea. We were friends years ago." For a reason I can't quite put my finger on, I want a life connected in what is surely a very tenuous way, simply being fated to arrive on the planet in the same year and living in the same southeastern corner of Houston sprawl, so that we were all Dobie Class of 1988, to matter

I read a piece this morning in the Times that I later posted on our group's page as one more reason people might want to show up and reminisce.

First, the experimenters induced nostalgia by playing hit songs from the past for some people and letting them read lyrics to their favorite songs. Afterward, these people were more likely than a control group to say that they felt “loved” and that “life is worth living.”

Then the researchers tested the effect in the other direction by trying to induce existential angst. They subjected some people to an essay by a supposed Oxford philosopher who wrote that life is meaningless because any single person’s contribution to the world is “paltry, pathetic and pointless.” Readers of the essay became more likely to nostalgize, presumably to ward off Sartrean despair.

Moreover, when some people were induced to nostalgia before reading the bleak essay, they were less likely to be convinced by it. The brief stroll down memory lane apparently made life seem worthwhile, at least to the English students in that experiment. (Whether it would work with gloomy French intellectuals remains to be determined.)

“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” Dr. Routledge says. “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.

At least until they have to create the Unknown Student memorial slide.


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