Those were the days.
As you might have remembered from my previous musings, I went to one of those kinds of all-boys Jesuit schools. It was the sort of place that took (and takes) careful note of the zeitgeist and proceeded to run in the opposite direction, full-tilt. The environment was a cross between Tales of St. Austin's and Lord of the Flies. This school had been founded in 1780something in Spain, kicked out in 1850something, packed up and went to Cuba in 1854 and got kicked out of there in 1961. In a great measure, this school is/was equivalent to Andover or Exeter. A lot of the guys who attended had names you'd associate (correctly, BTW) with the brand names of famous cigars or rums.
Academically rigorous, with a huge streak of the old to-whom-much-is-given-much-is-expected mindset with a dash of sink-or-swim for piquancy. My graduating class was made up of 56 guys. Of those, 20 went to Ivy League schools, another 20something went to pretty uppity sort of schools (Georgetown, in particular, with lots of Duke, Emory and Stanford, etc.), while some of us went to, um, party schools.
Part of the allure this place holds in my mind's eye is similar to that which basic training holds for veterans; where the bonds you forge in this sort of crucible last--even through protracted and multiple dormancies--for life. Henry V's famous speech at Agincourt would not have been out of place among us. For a number of reasons, not everyone goes to the 5th, 10th, etc. reunions so there is always a better than even chance that, at the 25th, you might see someone for the first time since you were at school together that quarter century ago.
Therefore, it would have been really swell if those who shaved their heads had warned the rest of us, especially if they had a topiary of a 'fro a quarter century ago and now sport a shaved melon. I spent half the night going "Whoa! DUDE! Didn't recognize you without the foliage." That's an even bigger shock than seeing those who evolved into something more closely resembling a member of the human species.
And don't think I've recovered from the fact our class has more dentists than my grandmother had teeth. I still think its funny a lot of the wives spent the night saying to each other things like "I didn't know they called him THAT." or "I wonder if my husband had anything to do with the ExamScam?" or "What is '[insert obscure school slang here]?" Explaining the whole nickname system* thing took the better part of the drive home.
The event was at a country club close to my house (which was nice) and decorated, as only an all-guy committee ever could: Sparsely. Mostly ancient photos, blown up to 3' x 5' size decked the hall. The highlight of the evening was a video dripping with nostalgia, interposing a lot of the "that was then, this is now." It gave me an amazing memory whiplash. There, on the screen, looking down at me and at us, were these...faces. Seventeen and eighteen year old faces, full of mischief and goodness and loyalty and adventure and friendship and promise. Faces which silently spoke of shared adventures and trial...of all-nighters trying to eke out a passing grade in Latin or Chemistry; of rescuing one of our own from being turned into a damp redness by some girl's narrow-minded boyfriend; of getting into--and less frequently, out of--trouble with Fr. Disciplinarian, SJ; of impromptu road trips; of SATs and admissions. These were faces who lived for the moment, because it would never be tomorrow.
These young faces, unclouded by the stresses of fatherhood, marriage, work, family looked down and smiled at the men who had once begotten those youthful smiles. Men whose faces were lined, hairlines greyed or receded or both. Men who as boys had passed bottles of rum between them on Saturday nights, and now passed PDAs with pictures of their families. The men on whom these faces looked down are men who now live not for the moment, but for tomorrow, because tomorrow always lurks. The guy who almost got expelled for spiking the sacramental wine with vodka now is a bank president. The twins who went four years pretending to be each other so as to only have to study for half the tests are now hugely respected neurosurgeons. Guys went off to school, many met girls there and stayed gone and carved out whole lives in Washington DC, or St. Louis or Boston. Gradually most of us lost touch with each other. Twenty-five years affords many opportunities to do so.
But last Saturday night--and maybe this is only a phenomenon that happens for a night or a weekend every 5 or 10 years--we didn't see the receded hairlines and expanded waistlines. We saw the ghosts of the strenuously, if benevolently, trying boyhood we had shared. Circuits, long dormant, crackled with life and joy and shared pains and sorrow** and for a glittering, shimmering instant in time, we who have wives and children and houses and insurance payments, were boys again.
* Basically, you never called anyone by their first name unless you were an extremely close friend, and even then it was "Dave" and not "David." First names were reserved for family alone. Either the guy next to you was "Smith" or he was "Buzzy." There are guys--and I'm far from being alone in this--whom I only know by their nicknames.
** Seeing the video reminded us of the three guys from our class who have died, leaving friend-shaped gaps among our number. They were good guys to a man, and I miss them dearly.