Monday, October 16, 2006


I just finished one of my most enjoyable and exhausting weeks in recent memory. It had essentially three components – meeting my publisher in San Diego and doing a book signing there for The Creed Room; seeing friends in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco; and attending my 25th year college reunion at Stanford. There was one basic problem with the week: I was going to bed on Pacific Time and waking up on Eastern Time. But other than being sleep deprived, I had an absolute blast.

In each of the three cities I visited, I couldn’t help but notice the following difference between California culture and Washington, D.C. culture: the former was so much more materialistic and entrepreneurial than the latter. I found the materialism rather alienating and perhaps even a tad ridiculous, but I have a tremendous amount of admiration for the entrepreneurial spirit. Clearly, if there is an entrepreneurial gene, I never got it. Neither did most of my friends in D.C. But in California, it seems like every other person I spoke to had started his or her own business. I’m not exaggerating -- the small business owners were at least as prevalent among my Californian friends as the wage/salary workers. Good for them!

As the week went on, I found myself getting progressively drained of physical energy, but there was a psychological exhilaration in seeing old friends and old stomping grounds that kept me going strong. For me, it’s all about connectedness. The more I age, the more I value feeling connected. In this case, I’m talking about feeling connected to a previous person-stage.

Truly, isn’t a person nothing more than a series of person-stages? We can talk all we want about the value of living in the present or of dreaming about the future, and I try to do both. But if we want to be whole beings, if we want to understand how and why we developed as we have, or how and why we chose the friends or occupations we chose, we had better connect our present selves with the person-stages that preceded us. And that can only be done when we connect with the people who once mattered the most to us but with whom we’ve somehow fallen out of touch.

I don’t go to all my school reunions. I’ve never been to a law school reunion and have no plans to go to one. My feelings about my law school itself were sufficiently ambivalent that I’m not sure I could enjoy the occasion. But I never miss my college or high school reunions, and almost invariably, I enjoy the heck out of them. It’s not that I think of all my high school or college buddies as “kindred spirits;” in some respects, my friends and I have grown far, far apart. I do, however, appreciate that these people helped to shape who I am, know things about me that perhaps I would no longer admit to myself, and have shared some of my favorite moments or influences. Why would we not value time spent every few years with such people?

For me, being connected with other people lies at the heart of spirituality. Life isn’t just about meditating in silence, or communing with natural beauty. It’s also about being able to love other people, some of whom might not even care as much about you in return. It’s about building loving relationships. And I mean relationships with other people – particularly old friends. As Spinoza said, “nothing is more advantageous to man than man.” That’s hard to believe when you deal with bureaucrats, or arrogant lawyers, or rapacious corporate executives, or hypocritical clergymen, or bullying politicians …

But, as a general matter, it remains true. We need each other. And we really need our old friends. Those who feel able to ignore them for long periods of time do so at their own psychological and spiritual peril.


Finding Fair Hope said...

It seems that the older we are, the more aware we are of the things that shaped us, and the more we need to touch our own youth in order to affirm our present.

I was just thinking of "living in the moment" and how I used to do that as a matter of course, but I realized that as a young person I had very little past to draw on and no real awareness of what the future might hold. Time has given me both, making it difficult to live in the moment, but really, so what? Every moment we live is informed by what went before, and situations we have experienced, and if we have more of them than we once did, we have a richer present.

I have friends who seem to have little or no memories of youth or childhood, and I bore them with remembrances. However, I am not a bit sorry that I am saddled with a vivid knowledge of the past and a constant temptation to tweak it back into existence. Sometimes this tendency gets in the way, and I say, "Live in the moment!" to myself, but basically I am pleased with the rather complex and even confusing set of situations and realities that constitute my awareness.

I've practically written a blogpost here...thanks for setting me on this trail.

Grammie said...

...loved what you had to say about going to your reunion.
I head to my (yikes)40th high school reunion in a few weeks...and your post caused me to get even more excited about the prospect of seeing these old friends again. Great blog, thanks.

Daniel Spiro said...

I'm thrilled to be able to motivate someone to head to a reunion. I'm looking forward to my 30th high school reunion next year. And fortunately, unlike the college reunion, I won't have to sit through our football team getting a butt-kicking.