As I wrote in my “mean girls” post, my 30th high school reunion was this past weekend. I’ve gone to all of our reunions, but not like this. In the past I’ve always gone with my husband; only attended the main event on Saturday night; and spent most of my time with my close friends from high school. But this time only a couple of my friends were going, Mr. Right wasn’t traveling with me, and I decided to do the whole weekend blowout. I didn’t make it into town in time for the Homecoming parade, but I was there for the tailgate party, football game, post game meetup at a local bar, and the main event on Saturday night.
This was kind of a big deal.
As I said in my earlier post, I enjoyed high school, but I was a shy, insecure kid and found my safety in sticking close to a tight knit band of friends. After high school I left town and never looked back. What mattered most to me, beyond family, was a very small group of people. When they scattered away to college and jobs in other places, my hometown didn’t feel like home anymore.
And then, at some point, my perspective changed. As the awkward memories of adolescence faded I began to appreciate the place I came from, and all the people that made up my life there – all of them, freaks and jocks and mean girls and artists, wonderful teachers and terrible ones, too. So when I found out that our group (posse? clique?) was going to be underrepresented at this reunion, I decided to plunge in with both feet and try to get reacquainted with the rest of my class – or at least the ones who would show up for our 30th reunion.
I gave myself quite a pep talk in the car as I traveled home, about the shortness of life and the high cost of living in fear. Fear shaped too much of what I did and said in high school; and for that matter, fear has played too big a part of my adult life, as well. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of living a life cramped by anxieties that I’m not good enough or don’t belong, that I’m not one of the “cool kids”. By the time I reached Sedalia, I felt like I’d taken a magic potion to instill confidence. “I really don’t care what anyone thinks of me,” I told a close friend as we headed to the party Saturday night. And I meant it! That’s darn near miraculous.
And it was awesome. My memory is terrible, so I was forced to say, over and over, “I’m sorry, can you help me out? Remind me of your name?” But few people seemed bothered by that. What was weirder was how many people remembered me. In my mind’s eye I see my high school self as a little eccentric (I wanted to be Jewish, for instance, earning myself the nickname “la Judia rubia” in Spanish class), but quiet, timid and very forgettable. But something about me seems to have stuck with people, even with the “cool kids”. It made me feel, retroactively, a little bigger than a bug. Like a gerbil, maybe, or a finch.
We cheered on the football team, even though the bleachers were hard on our creaky backs. We yelled over bar noise, complaining to each other about our kids and their gadgets. We sang our junior high fight song, honored our deceased classmates, laughed at our yearbook pictures, danced badly and marveled over how old we’ve gotten. Middle aged white women tried to learn to twerk (I sat that one out, wisely). A classmate who still hasn’t lost her coolness performed “Rapper’s Delight”, and we cheered her memory for lyrics. Some people wanted to talk about my “mean girls” post, but no one really admitted to being a mean girl. My theory now is that few people are that self-aware – including me, so who am I to judge?
It was fun to tell people that I’m a pastor now, and see their reactions. All positive, I’m happy to report. Many people responded by telling me about their own church involvement. One classmate who I remember as a stoner is now the head of the elder board at a Baptist Church. Another classmate responded to the news that I’m a pastor by saying, “Well, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior…and I’ve only had four beers tonight!”
No beer was necessary for me to feel warm and affectionate toward all those people with whom I’d shared the journey through high school. I was glad to see those familiar faces (“But I’m sorry, what was your name again?”); I was glad they were still dancing and laughing and that somehow the wrinkles and gray hair didn’t obscure entirely the children that we were together, such a long time ago.
I felt freer than I have in a long time: free of self consciousness and worry and responsibility. I said to a friend, “I’m not stressing about looking old and fat in the pictures tonight. Any picture in which I look joyful, I will consider a good picture.” I wound up in a lot of pictures, and I look joyful in almost every one.