Why events that celebrate the passage of time are perfect reminders of the Buddhist concept of the three marks of existence: non-self, impermanence, and suffering.By Rachel Meyer
My 20th high school reunion is coming up next week.
How did THAT happen? More importantly: Should I go?
It’s in Nebraska, so I’d have to book a flight (with connections), rent a car, haul my kid across time zones, and find something decent to wear. Not to mention all that torturous small talk once I actually get there. As an introvert, trying to catch up on two decades of relative strangers’ lives over cocktail weenies and cheap wine is perhaps my worst nightmare.
There are a million reasons to just blow it off, not the least of which being that reunions in a post-Facebook world yield fewer surprises than they did before. Most of us are familiar with some version of one another’s lives, even if it’s a glossily curated edition.
But there’s a reason Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion became a cult hit. It articulated something most of us don’t say out loud: it can be so damn hard to go back.
Social media or not, reunions are charged with existential angst. They leave you acutely aware of the passage of time: the fact that you’re now decidedly middle-aged, sporting gray at your temples, hefting around an extra 15 pounds; and the undeniable truth that somehow, you got kind of old.
That high school promise of what could be has been replaced by the often-ambivalent reality of what is, and death feels so much closer than it did in back when Friends and The Spice Girls reigned supreme.
The movie Grosse Point Blank says it best:
Marcella: You know, when you start getting invited to your 10 year high school reunion, time is catching up.
Martin Q. Blank: Are you talking about a sense of my own mortality or a fear of death?
Marcella: Well, I never really thought about it quite like that.
Martin Q. Blank: Did you go to yours?
Marcella: Yes, I did. It was just as if everyone had swelled.
It’s complicated. So you flirt with the prospect of throwing on a pair of Spanx, buying a new handbag, touching up your roots, and praying for no awkward middle-aged acne to show up, all the while wondering what happened to your sprightly hopeful young self, and feeling insecure about your achievement or lack thereof.
It’s all too much. So then you figure: screw it. I’ll just stay home and avoid the whole awkward thing.
But you should go. Because life is short. We’re lucky to be around at 38. And who knows if we’ll make it to our 30th high school reunion?
Lewis Richmond, a Buddhist teacher and author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, uses Zen philosophy to express our inherent connection in a different way.
In a 2010 conversation with Tricycle’s feature editor Andrew Cooper, Richmond said:
Sometimes when I’m asked to describe the Buddhist teachings, I say this: Everything is connected; nothing lasts; you are not alone. This is really just a restatement of the traditional three marks of existence: non-self, impermanence, and suffering. I don’t think I would have expressed the truth of suffering as “you are not alone” before my illnesses, but now I find that talking about it that way gets at something important. The fact that we all suffer means we are all in the same boat, and that’s what allows us to feel compassion.
When sickness and death touch your life—as they inevitably will—they’re an electrical shock waking you up to the fact that you don’t get to keep this body forever. You don’t have time to get an MBA or train for that Ironman before you give yourself permission to be authentic and at ease in your body and your relationships. You begin to realize that tomorrow might be too late.
And those people with whom you shared your teenage years? They’re precious in a way no one else might be…