Why I Skipped My 50th High School Reunion

I didn’t find out until I wrote this poem…

“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking…What I want and what I fear.” ― Joan Didion1

My 50th high school reunion had been postponed a full year, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. When I got word that it was on for 2021, and an old friend and classmate contacted me, hoping I would attend, I felt an odd mix of anxiety and ambivalence. Out of the 300 or so members of the class of 1970, I had been close with only a handful. And, it would be a big trip, driving from the Boston area to my small hometown in western New York. Then there were the risks of exposing my wife and me to COVID-19, given that the proposed gala event would involve a sizeable crowd, packed into a small dance hall. In short, there were some fairly rational reasons why, in the end, I chose to skip the thing.

It was only weeks later, after gazing at dozens of emailed photos from the party, that I felt a wave of emotion wash over me. As I wrote about this unexpected reaction, I began to understand the real reason I had decided not to go to the reunion. And that insight, as Joan Didion understood, required an act of writing. Here is the short poem that helped me uncover a hidden part of myself.

We Have Felt the Force of Gravity

Upon Viewing Photos from the High School Reunion I Did Not Attend

It was 1970: we had dreams

of changing the world.

We were strong and sleek, ready for sex or war,

full of ourselves and golden ideals.

Now, we have felt the force of gravity.

There by the punch bowl is Kathy,

my senior year crush, her lilac scent

still nested in my brain.

Settled, stolid, twenty pounds heavier,

She has felt the force of gravity.

There’s Chuck, mugging for the camera,

the bully who tormented me with notes

that read, “Jews don’t live long”—

now bald, harmless, and overstuffed.

He has felt the force of gravity.

There’s “Capo,” cocktail in hand,

who played guitar like Hendrix,

now ten years post-stroke,

his smile listing to the left.

He has felt the force of gravity.

And I, who would not face

what I couldn’t bear—

the sullen weight of fifty years—

I have filed away

the distant images of gravity.

Dr Pies is professor emeritus of psychiatry and lecturer on bioethics and humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University; clinical professor of psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine; and editor in chief emeritus of Psychiatric TimesTM (2007-2010).

Reference

1. Quote by Joan Didion. Goodreads Inc. 2021. Accessed November 15, 2021.