This past weekend I talked my life long best friend Lisa into attending our 25th high school reunion. To say that she was on the fence about going would be generous as the woman was clearly on the OTHER side of the fence, chained to a post, refusing to leave her happy adult life and travel back in time to make small talk with people we haven’t cared enough about to keep in touch with all these years. She had a point. So while I persisted in my quest to drag her along, a part of me wondered if I was being completely delusional in my firm assertion that this was a huge opportunity from the Universe to learn something about ourselves. In the end, Lisa came along – begrudgingly – or at least that was the face she put on, but I knew better. She’s savvy enough not to miss a rare chance to reflect on life as we knew it – even if that reflection would be in the chrome of the beer tap at our old town sports bar.
The people who come to high school reunions fall into two distinct categories. The first group comprises The Gang — those who truly loved high school and thrived there. These classmates attend reunions to yuck it up with one another and remember the good times. I got a sense that for these people the event was less of a reunion and more of an occasion to spend a night out with the high school buds they have remained close to in their adult lives. I have a fair amount of envy towards this crowd. Don’t we all wish we had a large jukebox of awesome high school memories, waiting to be called up and played on demand? For me, the fond recollections from that time are few and far between – less like a jukebox and more like an old cassette tape mix that requires you to fast forward and rewind around the crap to find the one song you like.
Which brings us to the second group to which I clearly belong: The Bystanders. We participated in the high school process, made a friend or two along the way, and happily moved on to better days – but not without leaving a small piece of ourselves back in time. And it is this piece that we are compelled (or not) to revisit at each reunion – despite our declarations that we go to see how everyone ELSE turned out. For as many classmates who choose not to attend the reunion because they are unhappy with who they are now, I put forth that there are just as many who remain unhappy with who they were.
Case in point, for every interaction I had on the night of our reunion, my thoughts immediately went to the high school experience I had with whom I was talking:There’s ________. (I had such a crush on him sophomore year.) Hey ________! (You would never give me the time of day). Wow – it’s great to see you _________. (I always felt comfortable in your presence.) OMG! It’s ____________. (I caught her talking about me when she didn’t know I could hear.)
Of course by the time you have been out of high school 25 years, all trespassings have been diluted and everyone is kind to one another during the three hour open bar. But no one really forgets what it was like back then – and how it felt.
The truth is that in high school, everyone was pretty much a raw, stripped down version of their future selves. Back then, without the benefit of life experiences to soften our edges, pad our insecurities, and contain our gut reactions, our core beings were completely exposed – entirely vulnerable but also able to wreak our own havoc on other unprotected souls. As time went on, the life layers formed each year and we become safer, kinder and wiser versions of ourselves. The classmates I spoke to on Saturday night have gone through divorces, had babies, lost parents, faced illness, made friends, given up on dreams, taken up new careers, lost their way and found new paths to travel. The layers add a depth to each of them that didn’t exist 25 years ago, making everyone more approachable.
For my part, I know that at my core I’m still a girl who is insecure in her relationships, longs to please the people she respects, and often misses the boat in her quest to find her place and make her mark. Going back to high school reminded me who I was – and who I still am under the layers of experience, discretion, common sense, and love I have found along the way. I can’t speak for my classmates – or even my oldest friend (who had a very good time I will let you know) but my sense is that we all caught a glimpse of former selves on Saturday night and, despite the differences at our respective cores, we all left the reunion with a better understanding about this process called life and were more connected than we had ever been because of it.