Pandemic at the Disco: COVID vs. the High School Reunion
Forty years ago, I was a young man, and the world was a very different place.
The headlines back then were all about the upcoming election between the incumbent president, Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. The top songs on the radio were hits by Olivia Newton John, Billy Joel and Elton John. The “Miracle on Ice,” with the U.S. Olympic Hockey team winning the gold medal in the Lake Placid Olympics, was still reverberating throughout the sporting world—even as the U.S. announced that it would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Lakers rookie Magic Johnson led his team to an NBA championship. The blockbuster movie in 1980 was the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, although Airplane, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers and Raging Bull were pretty big, too. The Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state blew up, killing 57 people. CNN was founded. The former Shah of Iran died in Cairo even as 52 Americans remained hostages in Tehran. And in Athens, Georgia, a freshman running back named Herschel Walker joined his new teammates at the University of Georgia.
I made the trip to Athens myself that fall, beginning my own freshman year at U.Ga. My parents dropped me off at Myers Dormitory, in the middle of campus, leaving me in the company of my new roommate Al Rowell, from Valdosta. Al and I had met at the Governor’s Honors program the previous year.
My mother cried as my parents drove back to Savannah.
Meanwhile, Al and I walked over to nearby Snelling Dining Hall and got lunch.
Apart from the year I was born, 1980 at that point was the most momentous year of my life.
It was a year of profound transitions. I had lived in Savannah since I was 5 and had attended Calvary, a small private school, since second grade. Most of my senior class was comprised of people I had known for over a decade. In 1980, I relocated to the beautifully landscaped campus of a large public university and was introduced to broad-ranging academic discourse, collegiate athletics and the best college music scene in the whole country. Most importantly, I was fully independent. I could do pretty much anything I wanted.
I was in heaven.
By the end of that year, I was writing for the Red and Black student newspaper, had joined the Demosthenian Literary Society (a campus debate group founded in 1803) and had made many, many new friends. Georgia, led by Herschel Walker, came out of nowhere to win the 1980 college football national championship by defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. The possibilities seemed endless.
Now, we jump forward 40 years. Most of my life has been lived.
That’s a strange concept, primarily because I still feel young. And yet, here I stand: Married for 35 years to Daphne, the love of my life, I am the father of two grown men. My sons, Chris and Josh, have married two wonderful women. I’m a grandfather now. I’ve been fortunate enough to practice medicine in my hometown of Savannah for 26 years in a gastroenterology practice that I started with Dr. Edward Rydzak, an excellent and compassionate physician who is not only my business partner but also my best friend.
Truly, I’ve been blessed.
But with the passage of time comes reflection—and the desire for reunions.
My Calvary classmates started making noise about a possible reunion last year. There were 74 of us in 1980. Three of my classmates are dead (God bless Dana, Scott and Bobby). At least one lives overseas. But we were always very close—and a core group of us wants to try to get together this fall.
There’s the matter of the COVID 19 pandemic, of course, which throws a monkey wrench into everything. Travel concerns, aging and sometimes debilitated parents, and classmates with health issues themselves all make the logistics more challenging. But we’re going to try—because it’s important to keep a connection with the past in order to fully appreciate the present.
In 1980, my parents and grandparents were all living. There was no internet, no e-mail and no social media. I had many friends, few responsibilities and a seemingly endless horizon of opportunity.
In 2020, my mother and my grandparents have all passed on. The internet is everywhere, infiltrating everything. I have fewer friends, more responsibilities and limited opportunities.
But I still have people I love. We all do. And God willing, I’ll get a chance to see them again soon.