By Toni O’Keeffe
As we age, why do we feel an urge to look back to our youth, to host reunions and reconnect? Is it because we have an innate desire to return to our original social tribes, the tribes that marked us and shaped who we became?
If you and I grew up in the same neighborhood, walked to school together clutching metal lunch buckets, rode our bikes around the same block, played on swings and metal teeter-totters, ran around kicking-the-can in my front yard or shouting “Red Rover” in yours, talked about our childhood crushes at sleepovers, or met up at girl guides, scouts, band, drama rehearsals, community sports, or at the swimming pool or roller-rink, we share a special tribal bond that can never be broken.
Our childhood experiences, whether good or bad, are the foundation on which the rest of our lives are built. We share a profound social history and connection with the neighborhood friends, classmates and cousins we grew up with.
Outside our immediate families, our childhood connections were our first experiences in the outside world. As we were growing up together we were also exploring the world, building relationships, and learning about ourselves through one another. Chances are you were with the people from your youth when you shared your first kiss, had your first beer, attended your first concert, smoked your first cigarette(or joint), felt your first heartache, endured your first body piercing (maybe by me in the girls washroom at school) or drove your first car. These are big events in the life of a young person.
Our childhood friends were the ones we turned to when our lives were in chaos. Whether that chaos resulted from unstable home environments, world events, our own personal struggles or when we had to cope with the loss of a loved one for the first time, we relied on each other to pull through.
Often people that go through traumatic events together, such as a plane crash, are bonded for life. This bond is sealed by the deep emotional experience they have shared. Going through childhood and youth is similar. In our youth we go through a series of significant emotional events usually with our childhood friends and classmates. These shared experiences can seal the connections between us forever.
It is these deeply rooted ties that drive us to seek reunions and reminisce. These reunions allow us to travel back in time, to perhaps see things in a new light and with new wisdom.
Whether you were an all star sports hero, a bully or you were bullied, revisiting these times can allow us to heal, allow us to reflect on how far we’ve come, allow us an opportunity to gain perspective and be grateful for the people and things we didn’t give thanks for back in the day, or apologize to those we hurt.
For those from my era, we grew up in a time when; we knew the people in our neighborhoods. We could safely play hockey or jacks in the middle of the road, hung out at the park from dawn till dusk and played unsupervised in the creek all summer long. We rode our bikes everywhere (without helmets) often with someone on the handle bars. Penny candy was “a thing” and we paid for it with bottles we found as we rummaged in dirty ditches. We were not tied to our phones, but fought over the one phone that hung on the kitchen wall. We passed paper notes back and forth in class and if we missed the school bus we walked home as there were no helicopter parents to swoop in and pick us up.
Compared to a child born today, we lived an unencumbered youth, free to roam and led by our curious nature, youthful energy and each other.
Then, the day arrived when we stood at the doorway to adulthood, stepped over the threshold, and we scattered, taking bits and pieces of each other with us.
As adults our lives got busy building families, building careers, building new communities and new tribes. But always hanging on to those bits of pieces of our youth.
Now as many of us head into retirement we have time to reflect on the bonds we built early in our lives. Our desire to pull out those bits and pieces and revisit our childhood tribe is normal, healthy and can bring about great healing and comfort because only we know what it was like to grow up the way we did and that truth connects us.
To those from my childhood, we’ve come along way together even during the years we were apart. I’m glad you’ve been a part of my story and my Tribe, and that’s the ties that bind us.