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Perspective, polished by the years

My 30th high school reunion is coming up in August. Thirty years. That has led to a few communications lately from that lifetime ago, which of course stirs up all sorts of memories reaching back through childhood and those awkward, sometimes awful, high school years in suburban Los Angeles.

At the same time, I’m hoping to visit and possibly even work with my old wildland fire crew in Santa Barbara for a week after the reunion. Maybe even go on a fire or two. My last season with the now-Los Padres Hotshots was 1984, just before marrying my wife and moving into a whole nother life. A few weeks ago I stepped back into that world during a daylong leadership exercise on Storm King Mountain, where 14 hotshots, smokejumpers and helicopter-borne firefighters died in 1994. I was long out of that business when the tragedy occurred. But at root, that world has not changed all that much over the years. Anwya, more memories.

And as if all that reunion fare weren’t enough, College of the Redwoods classmates are agitating for a reunion at a campsite at Bodega Bay. Boy, that schooling goes back 25 years or so.



On top of that, I’ve discovered reading Barack Obama’s fine, fine memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” that the new U.S. senator from Illinois lived in the same Honolulu neighborhood at roughly the same time I was living there with my father, right after I graduated from high school. Looks like we played on the same courts and gym at the University of Hawaii, too. We might well have played together. Reading that part of the book, more memories.

I have to say I have not thought much about the past like this as life has unfolded. My marriage is at about drinking age now, the kids in high school, and we’ve moved through lots of adventures together in our life together. Southern California, northern California (a whole different state of mind), Michigan, Illinois, New York, eventually Eagle County.



These tugs from the past, though, and all at once. Not a friend turns up here, a visit there, but all of it at once, amplified. I get glimpses of many me’s. The awkward kid in high school. The bartender, sailboat racer in Hawaii. The firefighter, the college student, the journalist, husband, father. But mostly the kid when life was wide open, full of possibilities good and bad. Oh yeah, I explored plenty of both, and very thankful for the good I lucked into, believe me. Looking that far back, I’m profoundly surprised at where I’ve wound up so far. There’s still so much growing ” and no doubt growing up ” to do. You know us baby boomers, it takes so long. Our children reach maturity faster than we do.

Of course, this too is a passage in our lives. High school was profound for all of us, whether it was the highlight or before we would like to acknowledge life even starting.



I flew right from town within days of graduating, hardly a look back. I mean, I flew. Caught a plane to Hawaii, got to know my dad, whom my mother divorced and left back when I was 9. So my split was quick, ties pretty neatly severed, though I did stay in touch with a few people those first few years.

In honesty, though, I didn’t give much thought to reunions. The 10th, 20th, 25th anniversaries passed without thought.

Until Leanne O’Neil called this winter, I hadn’t thought about the 30th, either.

But ever since my wife handed over the phone, grinning, and Leanne greeted me with my high school nickname, “Hello, is this Doo Hick?” Then she couldn’t stop laughing, and me too. She called to pitch the idea of coming to our 30th reunion.

Since then the memories have cascaded, and some rising unbidden to the surface ” happy, awkward, ones I cringe at. No, lots I cringe at. I was so … adolescent then. I’m sure I am still, actually. I’m just more comfortable with it now. I’ve embraced my not so inner goof. Hell, I even show it to you.

Intellectually, I understand this in so many words is the story for most or all of us. Being human is not an easy thing at any stage. But going back of course it’s such a personal story. I felt this. I did that. I wish, oh I wish I could have been smart enough to do that instead.

Yet when I talk with a classmate or a crewmate from long ago, it’s pure joy. We are who we were, certainly. But more so, we are who we are now. Make sense?

Perspective is a wonderful gift, polished smooth and gleaming and beautiful with the years.

Still, my classmates from high school better wear their nametags at the reunion. Thirty years IS an awfully long time.


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