It is forty years later—forty years after the bloody spring of Kent State, a war recoiling in Southeast Asia that tormented us with television images and the real threat of conscription. Forty years after no one had even a fleeting thought, a passing dream that a black man could possibly serve as President of the United States.
Nothing more precious than the nostalgia for a time when what we did not know was how much we knew.
The Woodward High School class of 1970, an eclectic and tumultuous crew of 500 Cincinnati youngsters who dealt gamely with everything from calculus to car keys to curfews, from blood to bedlam to banalities, has, for the most part, spread out across the postmodern horizons of cyberspace, cell phones, recession, space stations, and jihad. The less than one hundred of us who gathered this past weekend in suburban Cincinnati, exalting a somewhat dangerous high school that is absolutely sacred in our collective memory, arrived from as far away as Denmark as close by as the nearest lofty Cincinnati chili diner.
We came through airport security details, across American highways selling gasoline at ten times the cost we remember from the ‘60s, bearing digital cameras, iPad units, and glittering photos of grown-up children and some grandchildren. We danced, teased one another, experienced profound waves of affectionate connection and informed experience, and we remembered our dead.
We marveled at how much older we looked; we were astonished at how we looked the same. We embraced one another and, for the most part, forgave old sophomoric grievances. We cherished the legacies of our fallen heroes, from the two Kennedys to King to almost sixty thousand youngsters who were more or less our age and were unnecessarily destroyed in the napalm and nefariousness of a place we now visit as tourists—Vietnam.
We rejoiced and wept in steamy Cincinnati, near the banks of the venerable Ohio River, which had always been the frontier of our engagement with the insipid racism that made our years in high school excruciatingly indispensible—we didn’t even realize that our churning old school, drawing kids from neighborhoods as dissimilar as the stubborn and cruel American demographic of that time, was an absolute microcosm of our fragmented nation that has but matriculated into a spiteful conglomerate of blue and red states.
So there we were late at night: a big bunch of time-warped high schoolers, all in our late fifties, back at Skyline Chili, gobbling cheese dogs and gossip, almost forgetting how the world has betrayed us over 40 years.
And yet: Nothing more precious than the nostalgia for a time when what we did not know was how much we knew.
ORDER my book, NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination