Rural Delivery, Raratonga
Saturday is Alumni day at Westtown school, the Quaker school outside of Philadelphia where I went for 11 years (and boarded the last three.) I spent an hour last night reading alumni updates in the school’s quarterly magazine. The letters are arranged by class year. Reading all the letters, from the class of 1918 to the class of 2002, is like looking at the tilted slabs of sedimentary rock you sometimes see by the side of the highway. Each sedimentary layer, each generation’s similar preposessions, boasts, and concerns, is revealed to clear view.
Kate’s dad recently had his 40th high school reunion; he told me that he enjoyed it because “the race is run, everyone knows what they did, and it’s time to relax.” Boy, that’s sure not the case for twenty and thirty year olds. The alumni reports surrounding the class of 1989 are full of successful people elbowing to the front of the line. Except the head of the line at a Quaker school is “I’m happy, fulfilled, and I have an interesting, important job that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere or get people killed. And I own a house.”
- Graduation to 5th reunion: “I went to Costa Rica this summer. Liberal arts college sure is hard!”
- 5th-10th reunions: “I got accepted to the PhD program at [graduate school x]. I’ve taken a job teaching at [prep school y]. Come and visit me!”
- 10th-20th reunions: “I finished my residency program at [prestigious medical school z], am marrying my sweetheart [alpha], and am moving into a beautiful house on six acres in [beautiful state beta.] I just had two beautiful kids.”
- 20th-30th reunions: “My book on [small animals | peace and justice] has just come out. Also, I won my battle with [debilatating disease], I’m going back to graduate school, and am starting a new career as an aromatherapist.”
- 30th-40th reunions: “My grandchild was born in [faraway state.]”
- 50th-70th reunions: “I’m moving to the Quaker retirement community at Longwood.”
- 70th reunion+: Obituaries.
I’ve condensed each sedimentary alumni layer into one sentence, somewhat cynically:
I don’t know why I feel bitter when I look at the 10-20 year letters. Is it because everyone only writes in with good news? It makes me feel tired, like I should nudge the treadmill a little faster. I find myself wanting to repeat what I did in college; write in saying that I’ve joined the Air Force, become a test pilot, have grown a handlebar mustache, and can be reached at a forwarding address in Raratonga. What the letters really make me want to do is lose forty pounds before going to the reunion next Saturday. It’s petty, but there you have it. Ugh.