He looks utterly familiar although your most frequent and consistent images of him date from your years in the same high school class. You are both in your late fifties now, and the conversation is lively, compassionate, at times earnest and philosophical, at times sneaky and confessional and not a little proud of a reputation for early exploits that his grown children could scarcely credit.
His wife is as winning and intelligent as her years in high school would have prepared someone to expect who was lucky enough to know her both then and a few decades later. Over drinks before dinner, she reflects on her children’s lives, their opportunities, their values, without any need to claim them for her best friends or make them her or your equals. She is amazed by their lives but not envious of them.
She can talk about the experience of a serious year facing cancer without expecting that the topic should dominate the evening. He can let her choose the tone and length of that discussion and not presume to be the person most in need of understanding and support.
The message both he and she communicate again and again is the delight of our all being together again – in a different city from the one where we had all grown up, at a point in our lives that we might never have expected to be enjoying, with common bonds and vocabulary that make another meeting in the near future a clear priority.
And, indeed, what happened that night over good food in a creative restaurant and down the streets of a city we none of us call home will have a chance to happen again in a city we all of us called home at one time in our lives. The fortieth reunion of a high school class will bring us to New Orleans in two weeks, and the conversation will resume.
Despite changes in lives that none of us would have predicted a few years back.
The message again and again, I suspect, will be to hold on to what proves capable of sustaining life, to hearken to familiar voices that speak of reasons to hope and that communicate a well-placed trust.
We will all of us at that reunion remember times that felt and looked different. We will marvel as well, I imagine, at what in each of us seems never to have changed.
Image of Kir Royales from My Recipes