Remembrance dinner

I used to wonder why older people like to get together with their high school or university fellow students after decades, but now I know: it makes us feel younger.

A few years ago when we celebrated 25 years of our graduation there was this big event, a dinner that was attended by most of the one hundred students that were part of our year at university. It was so much fun, because in most cases we hadn’t seen each other in 25 years and knew nothing or very little about what had happened in each other’s lives. We greeted each other – mostly us girls – with little screams of pleasure “Wow, goodness, look at you! You haven’t changed!”; immediately we divided our former fellow students into two groups – those who “hadn’t changed”, or rather, have aged well, and the “unrecognisable ones”, such as the most handsome boy of our year that none of us recognised. He is still tall, but as for the rest – he has grown fat and his hair is completely white. I would not recognise him for the world!

I was happy that everyone recognised me and that I was naturally included in the first group.

Five years later again we were summoned to the 30th anniversary meeting. This time for lunch as it was said this would give us the whole afternoon to mingle. The meeting took place in the spring, in a hotel by the sea and the weather was lovely. It was a very special occasion – as soon as I arrived I bumped into a girl I hadn’t really seen in thirty years, as she had not been to either of the previous get together meetings. We used to get along very well all those years ago and were extremely pleased to see each other, and to see several others as well. I even discovered I had actually had a few business meetings with one of my former fellow students, without any of us realising that. Of course this could only be explained by the fact that she had only attended our university in the first two years and then left for another, even if she kept in touch with several people at our university.

It felt so good to be together that something magical happened: we continued to exchange mails. We’d all be copied – quite an extensive list – and we decided it would be great to get together every year. I even had lunch with a few of the girls I hadn’t seen in a long time and was invited for an opening event of the very smart shop of another one’s company. It was really fun to be in touch, and there was even a fellow student from Madeira who suggested we organise a get together there during a whole weekend.

And then again it happened: the University sent us an invitation to the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the introduction of Law studies. All former Law students were invited to this dinner. Again mails began to circulate and a huge percentage of former students of our year decided to attend. It was like a snowball…and finally, yesterday, there we were greeting each other and recalling funny episodes of the past.

But alongside the joy of being together, we were most shocked to find some of our former assistant teachers – who were so young back then, only a few years older than us, beginning their academic career – are not in good shape. One of them, a tall, thin lady whom we lovingly called “Leninha” (meaning “little Helen”), only because we liked her as she was kind to us, had a fall at home that left her in a wheelchair for some time;although she is much recovered she was walking with a stick and we could see she had difficulty moving. As for the other lady, who was the assistant teacher of our most beloved professor, and someone that we also liked because she was fair and taught well, she could barely walk, and we learned she has multiple sclerosis. It was heartbreaking to see her, still looking fairly young but leaning heavily on her husband’s arm. He used to be our assistant teacher too but in his case we found him so young, so unchanged, with only a few gray hairs…

Seeing these two ladies in this sorrowful state, but still bravely facing their respective ordeals, looking at our former professors whom we had met in the beginning of their careers and who are now getting on, laughing with the friends sitting next to us as we remembered our fears during the oral exams or tried to think of the name of a certain professor of a more obscure subject…it all gave me an intense feeling of nostalgia, of wishing time would go back so that I might find myself running crazily down the university stairs desperately trying not to miss the bus I had glimpsed in the distance; or sitting at the university bar with my friends talking about what we would do the following weekend, or about the exams that were approaching…and I found myself missing those happy times of long ago, missing them terribly.

I suppose that must be the reason why we are all finding the idea of spending a weekend together in Madeira in the Spring so alluring – instead of a few hours trying to recapture in the present the good old days of the past we’ll have a full two or three days. And even if there were fellow students with whom we didn’t have many things in common back then, we now actually have something very strong that unites us –this nostalgia of having shared some of the happiest years of our lives, when we were young and dreaming about the future. Now we are all in our fifties, that future has become our past, some dreams have come true while others have not, but maybe we believe some of those feelings can be recovered and that’s what makes it so special to be together.

What a bunch of sentimental oldies we are, I think. We all know the past cannot be recaptured. In fact, it’s very much like a treasure locked in a casket: sometimes you open it and dwell in it but somehow you know this treasure, although there, is unattainable. You can only “live it back” for a short period of time and then come back to the present, that you find infinitely less exciting because most of the decisions in your life and loves have already been taken. Still I think it’s going to be worthwhile getting together for that weekend in Madeira and spending time recalling old days. Call us fools, say we should concentrate on the present and the future we – still – have ahead of us, but again that mixed feeling of nostalgia of the past together with the idea of having fun together is irresistible. Why not live it, enjoy it? After all, those were really important, decisive years of our lives. One way or another, we lived them together. And now, we want to remember them together, too. And maybe create new memories to cherish in a few years – when we are really old!

As Cat Stevens used to sing “Remember the days/at the old schoolyard/ we used to laugh a lot/oh don’t you remember the days/ at the old schoolyard”.