What is it about seeing old friends? Why is the act of catching up with people you've known for over half your life so... moving in a specific way? Is it nostalgia, as I've written here many times, a word that means "homesickness?"
I think it's connected to identity.
A core representation of The Odyssey is that one of the predominant ingredients of identity is the story (or stories) we tell other people about ourselves. I think this relationship between stories and identity goes even further and identity is rooted in the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
When we see old friends they act as mirrors in which we can see seminal parts of our stories and by extension the foundations of our identities. They allow us to connect our current selves with our formative selves and see a through line and therefore, sometimes, some sort of true (or at least continuous) identity. When we see this through line reflected in these old friends, it's comforting and reassuring to know that there is something of who we are today in who we were twenty years ago.
My Odyssey travels often permit me chances to connect with old friends in such meaningful ways.
In just six weeks worth of shows this year, I've been able to see a college friend in San Francisco, a grade school friend in Berkeley, a best high school friend in New York, a high school friend I hadn't seen in two decades in New Jersey, and another high school best friend in South Dakota.
Add to that getting to see more four more old friends in California where I performed the Odyssey at Polytechnic High School in Pasadena.
I flew in the day before my shows and traded 30 degrees and snow in Chicago for 70 and sunny in Los Angeles. I met my college friend Nate down in Marina del Ray and we walked on Venice Beach and through Venice catching up. After a drive to Pasadena and my hotel, I took a glorious run in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine: after months of Chicago winter running it felt so good to be comfortably outside in shorts and a T-shirt and sweating.
A clean up and I was off to dinner in Los Feliz with three friends from high school, two I knew well through theatre and another who was part of the extended crew of kids that made up our loose but large high school social circle.
We had a blast: I saw these same friends in 2016 during my swing through Los Angeles and it was great to see them again so relatively soon and catch up on all our successes.
The next morning I was up early and over to Polytechnic for what was scheduled to be two performances and 7 short classroom discussions. I did something similar to this at Montgomery Bell in Nashville and though it is incredibly physically demanding to play two shows and then talk the rest of the day, it is also incredibly rewarding and getting to interact with the students in small 15 person groups is exciting, intense, and ultimately beneficial.
I did the first show for a middle school Latin class of 20 kids: probably the youngest audience to whom I've performed. They were great and a couple of the insightful questions afterwards belied the questioner's not-yet-teen age.
Then it was on to the auditorium for the feature performance for the entire high school, about 300 students.
It was a wonderful show: the audience was very quiet and attentive and I had some nice tech support in sound and lights to help fill up the big room.
After the main performance, I spent the next 4 hours or so bouncing between classrooms for 30 minute Q&A's with English and Latin classes. The discussions were fascinating: my performance had been preceded by a more traditional storyteller who came into the classes and told The Odyssey as more of a campfire story (complete with fake campfire from what I understand) as well as a viewing of a condensed cartoon version of The Odyssey on YouTube. The students were being asked to compare and contrast the different forms of telling and how it impacted the story.
Such a cool project and the discussions really reflected kids thinking hard and creatively about the material.
After the whirlwind of an afternoon I hopped in my car and sped (well, alternated speeding and creeping) to LAX. I had left myself with not much margin for error (or LA rush hour traffic) to make a 5:00 flight but thanks to some good GPS suggestions, Enterprise rapid returns, and TSA pre-check, I somehow went from Polytechnic in Pasadena to my flight's gate with a stop for gas and a rental car return in 90 minutes. Thank you, Hermes!
As I settled into my seat next to a gentleman who had apparently taken advantage of California's passage of Proposition 64, I thought about maybe the most interesting question of the scores of interesting questions I'd answered throughout the day: "When did you realize you were so interested in stories?"
I think I said "As long as I can remember."
And that is really the truth of it: we are interested in stories for as long as we can remember because what we are remembering when we remember is our story.