Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I have a feeling I will be processing the experiences of this past weekend for a long time, the many warm,
funny and enlightening individual encounters and also the sense of awe at the richness of emotion, intellect
and spirit that I see in each of you, my classmates, those who attended, those who could not or chose not
to, and even those who are no longer living.

I don't mean to whitewash those high school years or deny any of the difficulties many of us had, or still
have, or ways we treated each other less than lovingly. I certainly had my share. But one of the
most striking impressions I am left with is of realizing how much I have become the person I wish I
could have been in high school, able to participate and feel included in a way I was not able to then. How
wonderful to have a chance to experience a bit of the pleasure of those relationships now!

In addition, one of the more unexpected pleasures for me was that of having a bunch of you come and hang out
in apartment I grew up in. It's a place which does not hold the happiest of associations for me overall.
But now it is also associated with the feeling of connection, warmth, humor and rich stories that we
brought and shared. How precious and wonderful that long after I have vacated (soon, hopefully), this can
be one of the memories I can also associate with that place.

The magic of the reunion seemed to continue after we parted. I'm on the subway Monday morning, riding
down to Penn Station to head back home to Baltimore. It's crowded even at 11:30. A Hasidic family gets
on: father, mother and a child, maybe 7 or 8 years old. The father is thin and severe in black coat, top
hat, long sideburns and an expressionless face, not making eye contact with anyone, almost as if he were
on the train alone. The mother is stout, carefully dressed, her face masked in conservative makeup, blue
crystal earrings dangling below the edge of her turban-like hat. She is holding the child's hand, a
girl with large eyes and long hair barely visible under a bulky, hooded black coat. The mother guides
the child's hand to a pole to hold on as the train starts to move. She cautions her not to touch my
suitcase which is on the floor nearby. As we ride, the mother keeps up a quiet, almost constant series of
admonitions to the child in Yiddish. I cannot understand the words but the tone is so familiar, that
distinctive mother-to-child tone, authoritative and comforting all at once. I am struck by the visceral
understanding of how deeply we humans are programmed to respond to approval and disapproval from others.
And how the unfeeling, cruel or even simply unthinking ways that power is wielded and the deep shaping force
this has. I think about each of us, the class of 1968, the individual stories we each have of this shaping,
some of which we continue to live out and some of which we have shaken off in favor of choosing
preferable sources of that essential human nourishment.

Once on the train to Baltimore, I begin reading a story from an old New Yorker magazine (issue of June
17 & 24, 2002) I just happened to stuff into my bag. The story is called "My Father Addresses Me on the
Facts of Old Age," and is by Grace Paley. It's written mostly in the voice of the father, interspersed with
narration by the writer, skillfully giving voice equally to both. How synchronistic it seems to be reading this
just now. Here we are, a small subset of those born in 1950, watching (or having watched or soon to watch)
our own parents traverse this terrain of old age. We are old enough now ourselves to peek at our own impending
entry into it. And yet we are still children in need of that advice. It is a moving story which I can't seem to
find online in its entirety. Here's a bit of it: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2002/msg07932.htm.
If anyone really wants the whole thing, I can xerox and mail it.

So thank you again to Peggy (and everyone else who was involved) for being inspired, for instigating, and
mostly for following through to make this happen. I'm hoping that with the aid of technology as well
as motivation we can stay more in touch. Here's looking forward to 2008! June 7th, right?

Julia Hammid