Searching – Scott Ryan

The Reunion Project, a blog

by Scott Ryan

June 22, 2012
At A Loss

I occasionally uncover bad news. As much as I want to hear that everyone is doing great, a few from our class are no longer with us. So far, our class has experienced five deaths I know of. One person died before our ten-year reunion, so nearly everyone knew about her. Another kept a blog about her ailment in the years before she died in 2010 – she was a wife and mother, and many people followed her writings online.

Two of the three others I found the hard way. Looking for any sign of them online, their names popped up in an obituary column. But even then, I’m not certain I’ve got the right person. The hard part is trying to find a friend or relative who can confirm I’ve got the right person. Sadly, I was correct in both cases and felt bad for the person I contacted, because I unwittingly stirred up the person’s emotions. One person said they had been friends with that classmate since high school. In the other case, there were enough details in the obituary, including her picture, so I didn’t need to look any further.

News of the fifth classmate’s death was passed along by another classmate. In fact, I write this just days after experiencing a death in my own family. Unfortunately, this list of deceased classmates will only grow as time goes on–and it’s the one list I don’t want to look at.

July 6, 2012
You’re Not Alone

My journey is in its seventh month and has seen plenty of ups and downs. Often, I’ll make 10 or 20 calls all at once – and I certainly don’t expect every one to be a hit. Emails and facebook messages have been more effective, but they only take you so far.

For every ten calls I make, I’ll get a few bad numbers, a few voice mails, and maybe one person on the phone. But that one conversation makes the whole effort worthwhile.

Because I only kept in touch with a few classmates, I have to re-introduce myself. But it doesn’t take long to get into a comfort zone. In the age of texting and social networking, it’s refreshing to take part in an actual conversation where you can hear someone laugh instead of reading the ubiquitous “LOL.”

I’ve heard stories from classmates who are still with their high school sweethearts, classmates who’ve decided they need a fresh start in life, and some who haven’t settled down yet.

To be honest, the most rewarding talks are with people whose lives are in transition. I can usually hear the hesitancy in their voices, unsure about what lies ahead. But my words are genuine, and I try to be reassuring, because everyone has had their own drama. I think some people are worried that they’ll be the only person dealing with (name your crisis: divorce, losing a job, money issues, weight). Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve all had to deal with those things over the years – and more – so we’re in no position to judge. I just hope I’ve left them feeling a little more self-confident – and maybe they’ll want to join us at next year’s reunion, so they can find out just how much they really have in common with everyone.

Which reminds me – the class before us just had their 25th reunion last weekend, so it’s time to start planning.

July 20, 2012
Crazy Calls

There’s no telling what awaits me when I call someone. While many of the conversations are routine, some do stand out. In the search for one female classmate, I wound up talking with a man who explained how his wife had been dead for seven years. I apologized profusely. I felt terrible. There’s no way I can be 100 percent sure of someone’s circumstance ahead of time. I didn’t know this classmate in high school. But I listened as her husband calmly shared details of her lengthy illness. I was looking for an out. Then I got one – but not the one I was expecting. He casually mentioned he was retired and then it dawned on me: I’d been talking to the wrong person for nearly ten minutes. Right name, wrong person. Hey, it happens.

Sometimes I can tell where someone works based on an email, especially if it’s a school or government agency. If someone’s hard to find I might call a friend, a sibling, or a parent to help. I don’t want to pry into your loved one’s business, but if he or she has an interesting job I might ask about it. Well, that was the plan until recently. I listened as a proud parent talked about his son’s job. I was impressed, especially since the field he worked in sounded like something I’d be interested in. And as I was about to ask for more details, I learned that if he told me exactly what his son did for a living – he might have to track me down and cut my heart out. A little unnerving, but at least no one had to die.

And if you’re curious about that first call, I eventually did find the right person, alive and well about an hour from her childhood home.

August 3, 2012
False Start

My main goal of this project is to see that everyone who graduated with us gets invited. That’s why I started finding classmates one year in advance. I know a lot of people will rattle off reasons why they won’t be able to attend, but I’d like to think that enough people will appreciate the advance notice and make the effort to be there.

When I started, I noticed that only about half our class had received an invitation to our 20-year reunion, when social media was just starting to pick up steam. I knew that, with enough time and effort, we could do better, given all the new internet tools at hand. And we have. I’ve found almost 300 of us.

But now it appears I might have committed a “false start” – as in starting too early. Several people have moved or are planning to before the reunion. So now I’m having to find the rest of our class while keeping an eye out for people who have rented moving vans, or I’ll have to find them again. I don’t want our efforts dismissed with a “Return to Sender” stamp on an invitation.

I have encountered a few classmates who said they left during their senior year, or maybe didn’t arrive until then. Honestly, I can’t remember who did what. Some want to join the party, but a few have said they’d rather not make the effort. Maybe we’ll invite them anyway, in hopes they’ve changed their minds. I think it’s intellectual curiosity–I’m betting that most people want to see how everyone turned out, even if it’s just to help themselves feel normal.

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