Hold onto your hats, my friends: at the last minute I made the decision go to my 30th year high school reunion.
I know, I know. I bitched about not going. But in the end, my writing instincts kicked in and I realized that this was going to be a once in a lifetime (or at least decade) opportunity to really get some good column material.
Add “opportunist” to my resume.
Once I decided to go I jumped in with both feet. I connected with the girl coordinating the event and offered to help with check in/collecting information. I convinced a few other people to go. Then I went spent money I didn’t really have on a dress that made me feel fabulous.
And guess what? I had fun. Honest!
OK, dear readers, I know what you’re waiting for … here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) at my high school reunion:
1) I look better than I think I do. Either that or the mass consumption of alcohol by other people makes me look completely fabulous. I suspect the latter but I’m going with the former because it makes me feel better.
2) Piggybacking on that, it occurred to me (not for the first time but sometimes it helps to have someone else point it out) that there’s a fine line between negative thinking and self-deprecating humor. I make fun of myself all of the time. (Case in point, see #1.) My life is an open book. I live in the “I’ll admit my mistakes because I know you feel the same way” realm, and I know for readers it’s helpful and encouraging. It’s what might be called in creative circles as my “writing persona”. (“Truth+ pain=funny” is the comedic equation, after all.)
But last night someone said to me that I needed to stop the “negative thinking”. Hmmm. Interesting. See, I know I’m awesome now (in all the ways it matters to me for me to be awesome, not in the ways other people try to define it) … but the past me wasn’t quite so fond of myself. As I’ve matured, I’ve found the balance between the two but I struggle with those rare moments when they collide.
I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I know I’m not. But while talking about it is helpful for me and for readers, does it also feed the beast, so to speak? How, as a writer, do I use that struggle creatively while not falling prey to it emotionally? Food for thought. (And to the person who raised the issue last night, albeit in passing … thank you … and, I’ll add with a wink, I still think you’re full of BS but I do always think of you fondly …)
3) While my general memories of high school are painful, for some of my classmates there are very specific events that are still quite raw. Gaping wound kind of raw. I mean, 30 years later, we’re talking details, dates, times, places, who said what, who was wearing what. I don’t bring this up to criticize, because I know that when you read that, some of you just thought, “Oh, get over it.”
Easier said than done. And from my own experience, I understand that. I also know (from experience) how unhealthy it is. Someone once told me that the word picture in Greek for “unforgiveness” is the person who was wronged carrying on their back the person who wronged them. I don’t know if that’s true – any Greek scholars out there want to clarify? – but the message is crystal clear. It’s time forgive, for your own benefit and not for anyone else’s.
4) And what’s a great way to do that? Go to the reunion! Honest to goodness, if there’s one lesson you can learn from going to a high school reunion – whatever year; I learned this one decades ago – it’s that time is the great equalizer. Everyone gets older. Everyone gets fatter. Everyone gets grayer or balder or wrinklier or richer or poorer or happier or more miserable. And generally speaking, most people are a whole lot nicer. And the ones that decades later still act like they don’t know you (or still give off a snobbish vibe) aren’t worth knowing anyway.
5) And lastly, while it’s fun to reminisce about the good old days, it’s more important to focus on the friendships you have right in front of you every day. The only thing that really tied together the 70+ alum who gathered last night is that we once shared a home room or English class. Thirty years ago. I have more in common with the kid who waits on me at Tim Hortons; he at least knows my dog’s name and how I take my coffee.
Yes, there were some people there last night who have maintained significant friendships with people since high school. But those friendships are not based on high school; they were formed in high school but exist now only because they’re based on mutual respect, common interests and a general desire by all involved to engage in a significant and meaningful relationship.
I confess that I’m jealous of those people. I have a very, very small circle of friends who know me. And perhaps just because of my creative (and squirrely) nature, I can’t really think of any of those friends who know all of me. My readers know a lot about me and my daily faux pas, but my marriage, my family relationships (other than my Irish and Italian ancestry research) are mostly off limits. I have some friends with whom I share common interests – tea, books, writing, dogs.
It makes for a wide community of acquaintances but can really leave you alone in the desert when the going gets tough.
A pastor friend said recently that when we’re lost (spiritually, emotionally) we “don’t know where to turn and we don’t know who to trust.” That’s me. I think that people who have close, deep and meaningful friendships that they’ve cultivated and tended over decades probably find themselves in that situation far less frequently than the rest of us. Count yourself lucky if you have one of those deep friendships, because I think they’re rare.
Bonus lesson: If you focus on what might happen at the reunion you definitely miss what would have happened. Case in point: I have connected with several classmates who are writers. Any creative art can be a lonely business, but writing can really be isolating. It’s just you and a blank page for hours on end. To be able to encourage each other and to maybe work on a project together? If I hadn’t gone last night, I would have missed the opportuity to build that network of fellow writers.
So there you go. As usual, I’m willing to open a vein and bleed on a page to help someone else find a way to heal (or in this case, reopen an old wound to examine the scar). Because sometimes the best lesson you can learn is that you’ve already moved on.
And if you’re one of those people holding on to painful memories? Let me give you a piece of advice: You are the only one with the power to set them free. Simply unclutch your grip and let go.