Sunday, March 29, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

This weekend we had dinner with a group of people assembled to see a friend as he blew through town on his way from Seattle back down to LA. As usual, we were happy to meet the friends of our friends and had a great time. Which, of course, we knew we would because of the email exchange that occurred in setting up the date, in which everyone was quite amiable. When we arrived at the appointed meeting place and were parking, Pete says (mid-parallel park, because he's so cool he can parallel and make observations at the same time), "Hey, that guy looks like B." And indeed he did.

Perhaps I did not start far enough back. Okay then, background. Pete and I met the first week of college in a freshman seminar on the Spanish Civil War. On the first day of class, there were 10 students. By the third week, I think there were 5, only 4 of whom remained at the end. Those 4 people were me, Pete, B. and a Czech girl, S. Now somewhere, lodged deep in the recesses of my memory, I knew that B. had lived in the same dorm as some of our friends, which struck me as rather small world at the time. But I had pretty much completely forgotten this piece of information and had not thought about it since.

We got out of the car and walked over to the group and sure enough, here is this guy that we haven't seen in 9 years, with whom we spent 1o weeks in a rather intense class (at least the professor was very intense)... and his 1-year old daughter. To date, I had not yet met the offspring of anyone I went to school with. I know people have had kids, but I have been terrible about getting around to meet them. Add to this the surprise that Pete recognized B. at a distance... Pete never recognizes people!

I spent a good portion of the evening chatting with B. and his wife, J., and watching them with their daughter. I feel like I frequently read about people running into old acquaintances and being envious of what they've done with their lives, or saddened, or bored, and that it really makes them reflect on their own lives and goals. But I can't think of many instances where people run into old acquaintances and are just really happy for them and how well things have turned out for them. (Probably because it's not a very dynamic position and doesn't really provide any insight into the characters.) But that is just how I felt chatting with B. after all these years. He and his wife appear to be really happy together, from what we saw he's a great dad, and he just seemed kind of quietly self-confident. And that little girl... oh man was she cute! And happy. She didn't cry, she didn't fuss. She was just happy the whole evening. It is my observation that children with really good parents are often happy with strangers and not fussy. She knew that whatever she needed, she'd get it.

(Minor Digression on Good Parenting from Someone Who Doesn't Have Kids But Does Have a Lot of Opinions: what really impressed me was how J. and B. gave their daughter plenty of freedom to make her own choices without ever taking their eyes off her. For example, whenever she started to toddle off down the street, B. would call, "Where are you going? Bye bye! Bye bye!" and she'd usually turn around with a big grin and toddle on back. When she didn't turn around on her own, he was at her side in about three strides, guiding her back to the group. She got to feel autonomous, pattering about on her own two little legs and he made sure she was never in any danger without being a helicopter parent.)

My point here is not to make anyone's ears burn or anything. More that our culture seems to worry quite a lot about what people will think of us in the future. We stress about reunions and running into old friends with whom we've lost touch. I know people who keep their Facebook page completely hidden to everyone they don't personally friend because they don't want anyone they used to know to find them. At least in one instance because they are certain that those people have not changed at all and they don't want to have to listen to the same old BS they suffered through in high school (over 15 years ago).

In my experience, though, running into people I haven't seem in 10 years is almost always a good thing. There are people at Craft Night where I can't believe we didn't hang out in high school and I totally regret letting 10 years go by without getting together. There are people I've only seen or talked to once in the last decade, but who have made incredible transformations out of bad situations. It is interesting to me that if my experience is unremarkable, those stories may be the most common, are taken for granted and therefore never make it into popular narrative. (Or perhaps I should say "the popular narrative", as in, the narrative constructed by popular culture as a whole.) And because the popular narrative spends so much time stressing over the less common bad reunion where everyone is better than you or no one has changed, that is the popular motif.

Questions: Is it your experience that running into old friends or acquaintances is generally a negative experience? Is it anything you ever give any thought to? Do you look forward to your next reunion? Do you keep your Facebook page hidden because you're pretty sure everyone is still an idiot (okay- that's probably true; I know I still am) or is it more for professional considerations? Does MySpace make you feel epileptic? (Off topic, yes, but still a valid question. My answer is: yes, yes it does.) Have you ever looked at someone's Facebook or MySpace page and been sad for them? (I have only had that happen with MySpace and never with someone I know.)

You thoughts: I want them!


SonicLlama said...

I generally really like reconnecting with people. Whether people have or haven't changed it's usually an occasion for surprise. ("Wow, they're entirely different now!" or "Oh my god, they haven't changed a bit!") Regardless of circumstances, it's interesting. I don't keep anything in particular in mind or look forward, specifically to reunions, but I can't think of any bad times that I've had meeting up with old friends.

I wouldn't say that I feel sorry for other people when I see their Facebook pages or whatever, but I will say that seeing so many people who've settled into something regular (no offense intended here...) does make me appreciate my own unencumbered situation. Seeing all those wedding and kid photos makes me go, "Woo-hoo! That's not me!"

Maybe that makes me sound like a noncommittal ass, but it's true.

Seph said...

I wonder which of your many LA-based friends you could be talking about? :-)

I try not to censor my Facebook profile or blogs (beyond things I obviously wouldn't want up there), except to protect other peoples' identity. I figure that I'm generally content with what I've done with my life, so what do I care what other people think of me? There is some argument about employers finding embarrassing info about you online, I guess, but I kinda want to take the moral stance that I don't want to work for a company that wouldn't hire me because of my personal life. This is perhaps not the /most/ intelligent long-term strategy, I guess.

Generally when I meet up with people after years, I'm more surprised than anything else. It's always amazing to me how people that I used to hang out with and had roughly equivalent lives to me long ago have diverged so much from my experience. Whether it's something like the job they've picked or how they dress or what they do in their spare time, it's always fascinating to me how a tiny set of decisions over the course of many years can produce such huge differences in what were originally very similar people.

Guess I don't have any good /examples/ of this, but it's still neat.