Tuesday, September 20, 2011


When many moons ago I received an email, asking if I could help tracing down contact addresses of high school class mates, I was excited. Just a few weeks earlier I mentioned to someone that I could remember so few names from those years. And there came an Excel sheet with all the names of 35 years ago.

To keep it short, with the help of many we were able to track down most of the former fellow students, who graduated from our high school in 1976. I’ll have to be honest here. Time left voids in my memory, because many names did not ring a bell. On the other hand, there were many I had not forgotten and some came to life again in my now middle aged brain. Expectations were high when the day of the high school reunion came close. But typically, as if to remind my soul that we are talking about 35 year older physical entities here, a muscle in my shoulder decided that it was time to send out tormenting pains to the entire neck, shoulder and upper arm area. The help of a physiotherapist could not do a lot on short notice, so I braced myself, swallowed a dozen pain killers and promised myself not to stay too long.

This is an old class photo, but not the graduation class of 1976. This photo is from 1975.

Six years of high school during that stormy period in life they call puberty, might put a decisive mark on our psychological blueprint. Were these our wonder years? Or were they a mere phase on our road to adulthood? After all, if you’re honest, that road never ends. So, when I look back, I can not say that these were defining years in my life. Actually, those started when the doors of high school were shut behind my back when I walked out with my diploma. Because when you leave high school, you are 18 years young. But old enough to cast your vote, drive a car, receive a compulsary invition to visit the army baracks in those days, go on vacation on your own, live away from home in a dorm, be ready for more serious relations, and form political and social convictions. In short, life begins. You are 18, high school closes for you, but the world opens up. And entering a world they call university, I got to know people from all parts of my country, and yes, even from other countries. Literature was often in English, just as several classes since lecturers sometimes came from the United States or the United Kingdom. I literally flew out to the USA on my own when I was 19, something I could never have imagined just two years earlier.

When I drove up the parking lot of the restaurant that was the location of the reunion, I instantly noticed the abundance of dark blue, grey and black conformist cars. There was one bright red Mazda MX-5, and of course I immediately felt a bond. At least one other classmate had the guts to break free from the obvious. Alas, I never got to know who that was. But that parking lot showed the reality of life. The cheerful gang from 1976, now 35 years later has obligations and, typically Dutch, does not want to stray away from greatest common denominator. It made me even more curious. How would the actual encounter be?

The reunion, September 2011.

You see faces you can’t recall and hear names you can’t remember. But still, I instantly recognized many. Isn’t it funny how the notion of time can evaporate right there and then? The ladies, who were still girls back then, were the easiest to put a name to. Men were grey, bald or balding – and that made it sometimes more difficult for the brain to retrieve them from memory. Conversations were light hearted, and remarkably, did not focus on the school years. But as one of my old classmates, who could not attend the reunion, asked me in an email later, did you have good talks? What interests me most, he wrote, is what people moves and to know what their expectations in life, their challenges and disappointments are. But conversations did not go as deep as that – at least, not during the hours I was at the reunion. There was no time for that, I suppose. And just too many people. Maybe we just do not know each other well enough to jump over that barrier.

Just one week later, someone needed my attention. There were just the two of us. Nobody around who could overhear our conversation. I listened, and that was enough. So, who we are and where we go in life are the most fascinating questions. Because no matter if you win or loose, and the way that you choose, it is a question of honour.*

* Line taken from the Sarah Brightman song 'A Question of Honour':