So recently I went back in time, around 12-19 years back. I went to my school reunion to once again spend time in the company of a group of people who, for better or worse, were such an important part of my life.
When I first heard about the reunion, I thought it sounded like a great idea, especially when it was going to be held in the same haunt that we used to frequent as teenagers: the local cricket club which could be hired out at reasonable costs for nights of youthful debauchery and sweaty walls.
However, as the date for the reunion started to loom closer, the apprehension kicked in. The reunion seemed less like a fun opportunity for reliving our youthful misadventures and more as a critical point in our lives when we would submit ourselves to the judgments of those who knew what our childhood dreams were.
We all came from the same background, more or less, but where were we all at X years from that fateful day when we (thought we had) finally left our school days behind us?
I tend to review my life, what I’ve achieved so far and where I’m going, on a fairly frequent basis, particularly around this time, as the year draws to a close. However, my self-imposed annual report is scary enough when it’s assessing what I’ve been doing for the last year. Did I really want to voluntarily put myself into a room full of people who would want a report not of the last 12 months but of the last 12 years! On a year-by-year basis my life doesn’t seem so bad, on this more mega scale, was I really going to live up?
Navigating the nervous explosions going off inside my skull I realised I was the one setting all these potential landmines. Would my old school mates really care for a blow-by-blow, marks out of ten, consideration of my life? Probably not. But confronting my reunion was forcing me to confront my worst critic: me. And not just current day me, who can be tough enough, but that youthful aspirational me who believed life would all nicely fit into place after university and I’d fulfill all those dreams I didn’t yet know I had. You leave school and you believe you can do anything. I still believe I can do anything but now I know that ‘anything’ entails a lot of work and sacrifice I’m not necessarily prepared to make any more.
If I want to give up on my current career and become a doctor, is it still possible? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Maybe not. Would I really be prepared to return to intensive education, take loans or find ways to support the costs of doing this and put myself through all the stresses and strains it would entail? Perhaps, if I absolutely wanted to be a doctor more than anything else. But this is the kicker, and the way in which I feel I’ve most disappointed 18 year old me; you see, life didn’t automatically all fall into place after university, I still don’t really know what I want to do and suspect there could still be 100+ interesting career options for me.
I might have narrowed the field a little bit but I still haven’t committed myself to a singular path. Whilst, this isn’t in itself a bad thing, I think my ability to be flexible and to continue to be interested in new avenues isn’t something to be ashamed of, nevertheless sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to have that one goal to rigorously pursue? But that isn’t me, I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point at which I can sit back and think ‘right I’m done now’.
Although my biggest concerns about the reunion were self-imposed I was still nervous about meeting up with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since I was 18. I didn’t have any arch-nemeses at school and although there were people and groups I didn’t like, I‘d given up on worrying what they thought before I even left the institution. I was actually more concerned about confronting the people who used to be my friends, but for one reason or another I’ve fallen out of contact with. I don’t know whether this fear was motivated by guilt that I’d not made enough effort to stay in touch or a sense of rejection that they’d not done the same with me.
I generally think of my old school friends fondly, they were a great bunch who were part of an informative part of my life. And I have accepted that it is a fact of life that some friends we make are friends for certain times in our lives only and only a few are friends for the entire duration. However, it felt strange to be revisiting these old friends with the distance of over a decade between us.
I wasn’t the only one with butterflies in my stomach about confronting my past, pretty much everyone I knew who was going seemed to feel the same way. So we concocted a plot, we’d meet for dinner and a little dutch courage first, arrive en masse and, if it was terrible, escape to one of the many pubs in town. We had a nice dinner and I caught up with some old friends, some of whom I remain regularly in contact with and others who I wish I was able to see more.
After dinner we managed to work up the nerve to totter across to the cricket club. Inside it quickly became apparent that we can’t have been the only people worried about the reunion, of the 100+ who’d signed up, actual turnout seemed to be closer to 40.
I soon saw a few friendly faces, including some of those good friends I’d lost touch with, although the majority weren’t actually there, and…I had a really good time. It was great to see how people had and had not changed and it quickly felt like old times, except we spent a bit longer talking before hitting the dance floor than would have been normal in our sixth form days and I’m not sure we danced enough to make the walls sweat but it was a great night we didn’t want to end. After the official close many of us decamped to a nearby pub. The only thing that could have topped it off would have been if the kebab van was open when we left and I could have got cheesey chips on the way home.