Thursday, July 29, 2010

Three Dog Night -- "Celebrate" (1969)




Satin and lace, isn't it a pity
Didn't find time to call
Ready or not, gonna make it to the city
This is the night to go to the celebrity ball
Dress up tonight, why be lonely? . . .
Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music
 
A 40th high-school reunion in Joplin, Missouri, is hardly a "celebrity ball."  And I doubt that any of the girls I'll see there will be wearing satin and lace.  (Sorry, ladies -- you may be 57 or 58 years old, but it's hard not to think of you as "girls.") 
 
But no matter.  It will still be an occasion to celebrate.  

What exactly will we be celebrating?  Some of us can celebrate success in a career or a business.  (I'm not just talking about money -- I'm talking about the satisfaction you get from doing something well, and the recognition and respect you receive from your customers or your employer or your peers.)  Others can celebrate their children, or grandchildren, and the pride and joy they bring -- and is there anything in life more celebrate-able?

At the very least, we can all celebrate just being here.  Some of us have already survived close calls, and know from very personal experience that life isn't something to be taken for granted.  The fact that so many of our classmates -- not to mention parents and other loved ones -- are no longer around to join the celebration should make that very clear to the rest of us.

What I'm especially celebrating this weekend is growing up in Joplin, where I spent almost every day of the first 18 years of life.   It was what I experienced here that made me the person I am today -- for better and for worse.  

Certainly my parents were the most important influence in my life.  (I'm sometimes told -- not necessarily in a complimentary tone of voice -- that I am getting more like my father every year.  That is absolutely true, and it doesn't bother me a bit -- he and my mother have accomplished a lot with a little, and my sister and I owe them more than we can ever repay.)  

But my teachers (especially Mary Helen Harutun, a truly remarkable and dedicated woman who taught piano to quite a few of us) and especially my friends were very significant influences as well.

I moved to the Washington, DC, area after I finished law school over 33 years ago, so I've lived here a lot longer than I lived in Joplin (even accounting for for brief detours to San Francisco and Philadelphia).  And that's where I got married and where my kids were born and grew up.  

But where I live now is not really my home -- Joplin is, and always will be.  For better or worse (in the words of Little Big Town's "Boondocks"):

You can take it or leave it
This is me
This is who I am     

The last few weeks have really brought that home.  I can't overstate what an impact all the old photos that have been posted to the reunion's Facebook page have had on me.  

I've seen familiar faces that have been lost to me for many years -- I've allowed "out of sight" to become "out of mind" far too easily -- but it turns out those faces were not really forgotten.  Seeing them has triggered all kinds of wonderful and surprisingly intense memories.  And for some reason, the memories that have resurfaced have all been happy ones.

The Dugout Lounge at Mickey
Mantle's Holiday Inn in Joplin
The reunion will be a great opportunity to see many of the friends with whom I have kept in touch over the years.  Just as important, it will be a chance to really connect with other classmates for the first time.  I've already struck up some friendships with people I didn't really know in high school, or that I barely knew, and I hope those friendships will continue in some form after the reunion is over.  

It wouldn't be honest of me if I were to deny that this whole experience has also been somewhat bittersweet. 

One thing the reunion is forcing me (and, I suspect, many others) to do is to to look back and take stock of where I've been and where I am -- and where I'm going as well.  It's impossible for me to look at all those pictures from 40 and even 50 years ago without regrets -- regrets for all the mistakes I've made, regrets for all the things I wish I had done but didn't . . . but mostly regrets from (to quote from a book I recently read) "the realization there [are] a lot more leaves on the ground than on the tree."  

I can't resist sharing some quotes from my favorite poet and my favorite novelist from my high-school days, both of whom had a lot to say on this subject.

From William Wordsworth's "Ode (Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood)":

O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction . . .

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind . . .

In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

(I need that "philosophic mind" right now -- I hope I don't have to wait much longer for it to arrive.)

And from "The Great Gatsby" (by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was laid to rest only a few miles from my home, and whose tombstone bears these words):

F. Scott Fitzgerald's tombstone
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.  

That's not altogether a bad thing, in my opinion.  I look at all the pictures on our Facebook page, and realize that life in Joplin when we were young was often wonderfully multilayered and rich.  It was a time of intense curiosity and intense feelings.  To paraphrase the song I quoted earlier, you can take it or leave it -- high school is us, high school is who we are.

Well, that's it from me -- my last post before the reunion.  I've been talking a lot, and now I'm going to concentrate on listening for a change.   I look forward to seeing -- and listening to -- all of you in Joplin (or elsewhere, if you can't make it to the hootenanny).

Get ready to celebrate.  And even if you can't be there in person, you can celebrate our shared history in spirit -- and get started on our shared future.  I hope this song -- the final cut from Three Dog Night's second (and best) album, "Suitable for Framing" -- will help put you in the right mood:

1 comment:

  1. Well done Gary. Makes me want to cry.... :-(

    ReplyDelete