Last week Embry and I attended the reunion for my high school Class of 1960. I attended a private school for boys called Montgomery Bell Academy–“MBA”–located in Nashville, Tennessee. I have fond memories of MBA. Most teachers were good, a few excellent, and I made a half dozen or so great friends that I have remained close to for over 60 years.
When I entered the school as a freshman in 1956, I was coming off a year at home where I was recovering from a spinal fusion to straighten my backbone that looked like the letter “C,” a casualty caused by losing my stomach muscles two years earlier due to polio. I could not play sports and for most of my high school years had a full, upper body cast. For this reason, I am especially grateful to MBA for the opportunity created for me to become MBA’s first “student trainer.” Being a student trainer was the next best thing to playing a sport. I taped ankles and wrapped knees and cheered my classmates playing football, basketball, and running track. Our teams then were not great, but they were good, and my classmates played with a lot of heart. Tommy Owen, the head coach, was a legendary coach, who was loved and respected by everyone I knew. Since I spent a lot of time in the trainer’s room next to his office, after practice he and I were often the only two people in the locker room. He became for me a role model and mentor. The summer following my freshman year in college I accepted his invitation to be the head boys’ counselor at a summer camp, which was then (regrettably) called “Camp Easter Seal for Crippled Children,” an experience which made me appreciate how much courage and determination those handicapped kids had. It also made me realize that I had gotten off pretty easy myself as a “crippled child”.
Fast forward 62 years. In the MBA Class of 1960, we are now all 80 or will be soon. We are old codgers, the oldest reunion class to be included in the annual five-year MBA class reunions. It will probably be our last. MBA was small when we were students. There were only about 50 boys in our class. About a third have died including one of my best friends, about a third attended the reunion, and there was not much information about the balance who did not show up. Some live out of town. I suspect many may be struggling with health issues. Others have lost interest. I remember reading somewhere that if you consult mortality and morbidity tables, you will find that the number of survivors in school reunions tracks close to what actuaries and demographers predict. Such is life—and death—on the planet Earth.
Reunions for me have tended to be emotionally exhausting. It is always great to see old friends. Several of my MBA close friends were able to make it. Reconnecting with them is always the best part, and this reunion was no exception. It seems you pick up just where you left off the last time you were together. I remembered and talked with everyone who was there, which is one of the benefits of going to a small school. Wives were present at this reunion as well, and that was also a good thing even though Embry complained that most of the time, she had to introduce herself while I was off reuniting with classmates.
But I do not think that reconnecting is what causes the emotional exhaustion. It is what goes on in your mind thinking about what it all means or, to be more specific, what your own life means. How do you compare with those around you? Have you given your life’s journey your best shot? Have you made a positive contribution? How do your values compare to those of your classmates? Of course, there are no easy answers to these questions.
One friend warned me ahead of time not to talk about diversity or inclusion and that most in our class remained “generally conservative”. Well, that I could understand since I grew up in a conservative family and am a product of Nashville’s social class structure. So, I kept my mouth shut regarding politics; and when asked by one person if I thought, “like everyone in Nashville did,” that Biden is a crook and should be impeached and thrown in jail, I politely said “no” and changed the subject.
Politics, of course, was the elephant in the room. If we had opened this Pandora’s Box, who knows where it would have taken us? I know most of my classmates would probably have different opinions from mine but not how many would be Trump supporters or would have applauded the now infamous Alito draft Supreme Court decision on abortion or be against same sex marriage or for banning “woke” books and those discussing Critical Race Theory. I do not want to know. I want to think that we are all on the same page and share basically the same values. But I also know that our country is deeply divided, probably more so than at any other point in our history except the Civil War. Good people are on both sides. So, for reunions it is best to let those sleeping dogs lie.