It’s kind of hard to believe, but this month marks thirty years since I graduated from high school. It’s hard for me to believe, anyway. Others may have no trouble believing it, once they see all the gray in my beard.
I’ve been thinking about it lately because my graduating class is holding a reunion at the end of May, and I’m thinking about attending. Many of the people who will be there I haven’t seen in twenty years or more, and the extent of the contact I have had with most of my classmates over the last decade has been via Facebook. Yet when I think about my school years, a lot of the memories are as fresh as ever. And a good number of the memories are not entirely happy ones.
High school was not as bad for me as junior high had been, but it was still no picnic. Academically, I had no problems; the issues arose when it came to the social scene. Looking back, I suppose everybody had his or her share of angst and drama, but at the time I felt like an anomaly, almost an alien life form. Everybody else seemed to have it together, and they all seemed to be looking at me with bemusement or scorn.
I was a misfit, a scrawny kid with a big brain, acne, and virtually no self-confidence. All of these characteristics made me a target. At least it felt that way. I suppose that in reality nobody gave me all that much thought when I wasn’t around, but in my painful self-awareness and a twisted kind of egomania, I imagined them holding secret meetings and staying up nights devising special tortures to inflict on me when the new school day dawned.
It’s easy to develop a persecution complex when you’re a teenager.
Once I got out of school, left southern Illinois, and began to establish myself in my career, I gained confidence and grew into myself. Now, thirty years later, I have a wonderful wife, two terrific daughters, and a job I love. I have had a diverse array of career experiences and accomplishments, including having written a book. In many ways I am a different person than I was in the mid-1980s. But the memories are still fresh, and sometimes I am tempted to go to the reunion and show off. Rub my relative success in the noses of all my classmates who peaked in high school.
But then I remember an episode of 30 Rock, in which Liz Lemon goes to her reunion with a chip on her shoulder because of her memories of mistreatment in high school, only to learn that she was at least as mean to her classmates as they were to her, if not more. She developed a sharp wit as a defense mechanism, but began to use it as an offensive weapon, which alienated a lot of people.
This gives me pause, because I have some of the same failings. My quick wit and affinity for sarcasm has got me in trouble more times than I care to recall. Who knows but that there will be someone at my reunion who remembers me with resentment or hurt feelings for my vicious words or bad behavior? Perhaps I need to go there in a spirit of humility, ready both to forgive those who have trespassed against me and to ask forgiveness for my own trespasses.
I’ll let you know how it goes.