Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Dead High School Reunion

For some people, high school was the highlight of their lives.

Last year was the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation.  I got to thinking about this, and was curious as to whether or not they had planned a reunion.  I looked online to see if I could find information about one.  Not that I wanted to go, but I was curious as to who would be.  I didn't find much information, but stumbled across a (public) Facebook page that is devoted to deceased graduates of my local high school.

This struck me as rather odd and morbid, but then again, isn't all that unexpected, as our small town was mostly populated by Irish Catholic descendants of the servants who used to work in the mansions that were located along the lake. The  Irish tend to be very maudlin at times and obsessed about death. They make excellent poets and drunkards. Yes, these are my ancestors as well (as well as the belligerent Scottish).

They were two things interesting about looking at this Facebook page. First of all, it's amazing how many people you knew have died by the time you reach age 50 or so. I was aware of a few people around my age group who had passed away even before I left high school - or shortly thereafter.  And over the years, number have died in car accidents or due to illnesses or what not.

This is, by the way, why the "Clinton Death List" urban legend is so stupid.  The authors of this list posit that it is unusual for a middle-aged person to have so many friends and acquaintances who have died.  But in reality, it is quite common - you will have your own "death list" in short order, as your friends and family pass on.   And it only gets worse, over time, until you are at the head of the list.

An awful lot of people live past the median life expectancy.  About half, in fact.

If you look at it distribution curve of life expectancy, this is pretty much the norm.  While the average life expectancy in the United States is around 76 to 78 years, some people will die sooner than that - and some will live much longer.  Not much longer, though.   100 is about the max for most folks.  Usually the late 80's are a popular checkout time.

And the longer you live, the greater the odds are that you live beyond the average life expectancy. Average life expectancy includes things like infant mortality and death during childhood accidents due to illnesses, as well as car wrecks and other accidents.  So if you make it to 68, don't sweat it - that doesn't mean you only have ten years left.  Odds are, if you made it that far, you might live well into your eighties.

The second thing I took away from this was it was amazing how many people that I went to school with never left our hometown.  Moreover, quite a few of them, whether they left town or not, seem to be obsessed with their High School years.  Like I said, I stumbled upon this site only because the 40th anniversary came up, and I thought, "Gee, 40 years is a long time, I wonder what happened to...?"

Others, it seems, spend every year on that site, checking on who has died lately and who is still kicking.  High School, it seems, is the centerpiece of their lives.  Maybe it is just me, but I don't really recall the name, appearance, and personality of the ladies who worked in the principal's office (even if I spent a lot of time there).  I do recall our "lunch monitor" - a formidable woman named "Sarge" who could scare grown men with just a concerned look.  Maybe I recall a teacher or two, some friends, but that's about it.

When I look through these pages and see the names listed, I remember these names being called on the PA system at school or in class by a teacher.  But I have a hard time putting faces with the names or remember who these people were.  After forty years, the four years of high school seems like a very trivial part of one's life.  An awful lot more important things have happened since then.

Even college - all fourteen years of it - seems kind of a distant memory.  I could not tell you the names of more than one or two people from my college years, nor do I know whatever became of them.  Others seem to have an encyclopedic memory of the past.  My Father, after Mother died, traveled cross-country, visiting all his old fraternity buddies, which he had not seen in over 50 years.  I am sure some of their spouses were asking pointed questions as to why this old man was sleeping on their couch!   But I guess that is the difference between me and my Dad - he spent a lot of time reminiscing about high school and college, whereas I have largely blocked all of that out.

Even the few people I recall are no longer the same people.  40 years has reprogrammed our neural networks considerably.  Mark ran into the same effect in his life.  He palled around with his best friend in High School, and a few years later, we visited him in Boston, where he was working at a retail job (as I recall).   Fast-forward 40 years and he's a lawyer now - a partner in an international law firm, making well into the six figures and living overseas.   Mark sent him an e-mail once, and we realized quite quickly that they both had changed dramatically over 40 years.

But for an awful lot of people, high school is the highlight of their life, and part of their identity.  And perhaps their view of high school is different than mine, as they continually refresh these memories in their brains (and living nearby or checking in often, keep these relationships intact).   But I suspect that for them, 40 years has changed them as well.  They may have fond memories of the time we beat Canastota in a football game, but they are just that - memories.  And memories are always suspect.

Many people look at life through the prism of their childhood, and many still live in the same town they grew up in, and hang out with the same people that they met in elementary school.  It strikes me as somewhat odd, but I guess historically this probably was the norm for most people in the world.

Mobility is a relatively modern invention, something that occurred only in the last two or three hundred years, and really only recently popular.   Prior to that time, you were born into a village, and you probably lived and died there, never venturing forth to see the rest of the world.  And by living in the same town - or revisiting your high school facebook page - you reinforce your neural network, such that you remember these things.   On the other hand, if you move around a lot, change jobs, go to different schools and whatnot, perhaps your brain is reprogrammed by each successive experience.

I am not sure what the point of all this is, other than I thought it was somewhat bizarre to have a facebook page devoted to dead high school graduates.   Maybe this is a "thing" and I am just not aware of it.    Perhaps there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of such pages, recalling the dead from your high school years.

My gut reaction is, though, that the best thing about high school is graduating and moving on with life.  Obsessing about the past never has much profit in it.  And never leaving your home town, even less.