Back in high school, one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs was “Ten Years Gone” from the Physical Graffiti album. It was a melancholy sort of song, and I did melancholy really well as a teenager. With Robert Plant’s pensive lyrics about days gone by and Jimmy Page’s layer upon layer of forlorn guitar, it was a great song to listen to after a breakup or when you were feeling especially misunderstood.
I thought about “Ten Years Gone” a lot over the weekend because I journeyed back to my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, to attend my 20-year high school reunion. Twenty years! Wow. In some ways they went by really fast. But if I’m honest about it, there were some really long days—long years—mixed in between my high school graduation and now. (For instance, I thought 1992 would never end.) Each season of life represents its own little eternity, I guess.
Anyway, it was good to see folks whom I hadn’t seen for, like, 20 years. Old best friends, old girlfriends, old acquaintances I wish I’d gotten to know better back in the day. I’d never been to a class reunion before, so it was a somewhat surreal experience, like being handed a mirror where objects appear exactly as they look to the rest of the world. Seeing my peers from high school today gave me a glimpse of what I really look like. No longer can I carry on with the false notion that I still look like I did when I was 26. Finally, I understand why the twentysomething on the street addresses me as “Sir.” Sometimes the truth hurts—as does my back and creaky knees.
Actually, it was fun to see how we have all evolved and progressed over the years. We are now doctors, bankers, machinists, police officers, artists, sales execs, engineers, business analysts, editors, you name it. We have spouses and kids and mortgages. We really did grow up.
Sadly, at least two of our Class of ’88 classmates had passed away. When you look at them in the yearbook, with those senior-year smiles, they seemed poised to live long, exciting lives. It’s sobering to think that a few more of us will probably be missing by the 30-year reunion. But life goes on.
Being apparently the only thing approximating a minister from my graduating class, I was given the honor of saying a prayer before the dinner. What a privilege! As I prayed, I was filled with joy and appreciation for each of the people in that room. I knew a few of the folks there from as far back as grade school and middle school. As I looked at them, some looking like more refined versions of their old high-school selves and others looking like totally different people, I was thankful for having had the chance to be touched by their lives. We were all so different, yet forever joined together by those exhilarating, intense, sometimes heartbreaking four years that we spent together at Auburn High two decades ago.