Remember your adolescence? Do you recall how often we would be (oh so) morbidly preoccupied with how we appeared to be in the eyes of others, against what we felt for ourselves? This was that part of life when we’d be reexamining our identities to find out who we truly were and (eventually) aimed to become or end up at / as. Interestingly, this was a topic touched by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson – who referred to this stage of personality development as “Identity versus Role Confusion” (the fifth stage of psychosocial development).
As grown adults, we’ve hopefully all found ourselves and are relatively (if not, fully) averse to other’s opinions of us.
My 25 years to my high school graduation is in another few months. And to be completely honest: it’s hard to let the word “25” go without a gasp. This is because at almost 42, I somehow don’t “look” that old — certainly not as old as my parents did at that age. And, well, 25 years. 25 years simultaneously feels like it was eons ago and just yesterday. The days they crawled, the years they flew.
People like myself left high school thinking that we’d never look back, and that was partly true – because apart from the occasional “ran into’s” I never really connected with anyone or anything from school, nor felt the need (or desire, even) to look back.
Fast forward to 2018, a couple of us met up for dinner at BBQ Tonight, and who knew that that would be the start of something that would get me to “actually” look back?
I grew up in Karachi and I did my O Levels from Saint Michael’s. While I’m not sure I can say the overall school system in Karachi stays close knit, I do know that Michael’s (as us alumni lovingly call it) was a genuinely and deeply “formative” place to grow up. We (of course) knew this during our school years, but just how formative it was – was severely underscored by our subsequent interactions amongst ourselves. If there was one thing everyone recalled, it was the segregations – a commonality that has only served to bond us further, because this is one of those “if you know, you know” situations that would be understood only through firsthand experience.
I think I’ve attended all the reunions, so far: five, 18 and 24-and-a-half years — each of which had varying degrees of participation. At the five-year event, I felt reasonably confident; at the 18th-year dinner I struggled connecting with the others who attended, while the dinners in October and December 2022 were something in between. I cannot say I enjoyed these events, and my social anxiety was triggered at each. This is the same thing I’d say for my interactions on the WhatsApp group we’ve got going on for our year at Michael’s.
But I’m profoundly grateful for being a part of both the physical events and the said WhatsApp group. For a minute, though, let’s understand that it isn’t the entertainment aspect that I look for while engaging with others. I participate (at whatever level) for something far deeper: an opportunity to better understand myself, people and life in general.
Let me explain.
We went to the same school, graduated in the same year and the Michael’s “environment” likely opened many doors for many of us. But at the end of the day (rather: almost 25 years since graduation, in our case), what made this re-connection with people from back then beautiful was the “human connection.” While the Michael’s link enabled this human connection, we would agree that it transcended being Michalean and was hopefully and completely regardless of our wildly divergent backgrounds, current incomes, struggles, career paths and family structures over the years since we officially graduated.
Life does this. To everyone. At a certain point during the timeline of one’s finite existence, the “differences” that stood out in our youth eventually take a backseat to the “similarities.” Does this have anything to do with finally understanding that mortality is real? Another question: 25 years later, does this reality bite? I would certainly hope not, but having said that, multiple truths were discovered throughout our interactions. And while not exhaustive by any means, many of these were shared and some can also and easily serve as true life hacks.
- The very clichéd “common bond.” Given just how many of us there were in our year, I “saw” everyone, but “knew” probably less than 10% of them back then. But there’s something about shared experiences from the past that creates bonds quicker than we ever thought possible and this common bond and seal of approval means more than you might think.
- No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated: not for the most articulate of planners and neither for those who seemed to have it all together.
- I keep going back in time and thinking about all those presumptions I (and countless others, even amongst ourselves) made about our peers. Everyone has their fair share of troubles. While we only see our own or what’s overtly visible to the outside world, we somehow miss the reality is everyone has problems. Disasters even. Divorces, deaths of loved ones, health crises, were spoken about. And this was despite otherwise having all the best experiences in life: attending a great college or having a great job / career. Point is: nobody is immune to life – but going beyond the proverbial “face values” did hopefully make us grateful for those “other” experiences.
- Many of our class’s shyest went on to become our peer leaders (for lack of a better word), helping to organize events and (even) hosting dinners.
- Friends spoke about experiencing turning points in their relationships they realized that one’s imperfections are not an insult to the other – but were what made them, them. Sometimes people forget this, during their lives and I’m hoping that this isn’t a thing with us.
- They say timing is everything, but so is perception. What we didn’t know in school is that the grass is most definitely not always greener on the other side.
- Most of our knees, hips, and shoulders did take a beating over time. Depreciation? Wear and tear? Age does take a toll, doesn’t it?
- In our early 40s, people seemed to feel a pressing need to speak truths and give thanks before it’s too late to do so. Possibly “mortality being a thing” in action? One classmate apologised for a snide comment passed in our final year. Another friend spoke about school crushes and somebody else spoke about a friendship being rekindled thanks to these reunions and reconnections.
- 25 years ago, how many of us literally and figuratively went around in circles, not sure where to go? Everyone, I’m sure. Some days, these days, I am not so sure much has changed.
- When we initially made that WhatsApp group for our year and people started interacting and dinners / outings / meetups were executed, we knew there would be those one-off peers, who would be there – but for all other purposes would not be there: “silent comrades,” so to say. We also knew that there would be others, who would not want to be a part of anything at all (for whatever reason) and we were cool with that. But if there is anything that I learnt of all these interactions, it’s that life is short. This whole experience of connecting with people who knew me when I was younger, makes me want to make the most of my finite time on this Earth. Consider it a reminder (of sorts) that there’s no point in waiting for whatever “it” is that you may be waiting for. Life is short. It’s time to “go for it,” whatever your “it” is.
With every interaction I continue to have with my classmates, I keep wondering if it was fate, circumstances (re: 25 years) or something a little more intuitive that allowed us to reconnect like we did after all these years. And in these 25 years the “wreckage” had somehow made a stronger mark amongst us – than anything else. People had died. Hearts were broken. And health was fragile. Basically: life wasn’t simple.
But here’s the thing: the wreckage was part of the beauty. This is life’s journey, from goals and potential to realisation. We didn’t make that journey and cross those roads without giving something up along the way.
And that’s when it hit. The point of life isn’t to emerge unscathed or even successful, for that matter. The point is simply to live it fully. And while we didn’t necessarily “need” love along the way, knowing that it existed amongst and for ourselves definitely helped.
Very well written Sarah. The group made me realise that despite all our short comings we are still doing all right at some level. We all have our dark moments but we survived and lived to tell the tale. It is an opportuniy to process some emotions that were long forgotten and validate others. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.
Thank YOU, for being a part of it 🙂