A Reunion with my Own Sense of Promise
High school reunions are always iffy propositions. The memory we have of our classmates and ourselves is clouded by adolescent angst. Who we are now, who we thought we’d become as teenagers, and our feelings about our adult self make a head-spinning emotional cocktail.
On the surface reunions are all about news. Stories of who died from awful diseases, who fell apart, and who still lives in the same house. This day got me thinking about the old me and the future I had envisioned.
My classmates remember me as the kid who loved writing in the school newspaper, cheer leading, art, track, singing, fashion, playing in the drum corps and getting good grades. I was opinionated and never afraid to stand up to any teacher if something struck me as unfair.
When my parents split up I seemed to forget all that, blaming everyone in town for my emotional crisis and weight gain. I graduated early and got the hell out of town. All those years I blamed the smallness of my home town for much of the pain I went through. I now see that all the people in my life really knew me, were there for me and did their part in giving me a sense of belonging.
At my recent 35th reunion, I was pleased to see everyone who showed. The men, now very well matured, were the most astonishing. As my good friend Jody pointed out, “we really didn’t know them as well as we knew girls in high school. We were on our own side of the fence.” Now I can be happy for my fellow students contentment without judgement.
After 40, I came to believe that it’s not which rung of the ladder I ascend to that matters. Now it’s about the quality of my days. I want peace. I want joy. I want ease and less stress. I want kindness, grace, happiness and the knowledge that I’m alive, well and have gifts to give.
Certainly by 50 we all know that life throws fireballs and knocks us out at the knees when we don’t see the two-by-four swinging across the trail. That’s the weird nature of adulthood, no matter what it looks like from the outside, success is never a straight line. It’s an inside job, a complete gestalt of satisfaction that harkens back to who we were once upon a time and what we’ve done with those gifts.
As I looked into the eyes of my high school classmates, I realized that good things did come to me and had found me. They just didn’t come in the order and the packages I expected them to when I was 17.
In our senior yearbook I was voted “Most Artistic.” Friends acknowledged my ability to write and express myself, my sense of social justice, my sense of adventure. For all the years that passed since high school I had forgotten their support and grew bitter at my perceived failures. It took me years to re-discover my talents, to stop doing jobs I was mismatched for, and to trust the creative fibers that I’m constructed out of.
After the big weekend of reunion socializing, boating, and requisite Wisconsin beer-drinking, I took a walk around my old high school. I recalled snowballs pelting the line of buses in the turn-around in January. Oh those 6:00 am band practices, dragging my marching drum onto the practice field. I remembered sitting outside with a bag lunch, with an orange that really tasted like an orange, and the scent lasting on my hands all afternoon.
What is most astounding to me now is the friends I still have, or have reconnected with in the past decade. Those former classmates are people I would choose to be friends with today, so openhearted, progressive, thoughtful, kind, and willing to right the wrongs and oversights from their own childhoods with their own kids. I can see their courage and bravery.
Best of all, I remembered myself, the girl painting her fingernails at the senior table before school, pontificating on women’s rights, counseling a girlfriend on not taking crap from her beau. Finally I can reclaim that sense of confidence, a belief that things are bound to go well. What I most recall about that 17 year old girl was how I felt about life. I wanted it. I wanted to live it, fearlessly.
In the “Future Plans” column of my senior yearbook, I wrote “have adventures, see different things, and experience the world.” And so I have. At last I have finally internalized and acknowledged my love of the unknown future. Once again I am proud to be ready to give, ready to offer and ready to live.