A week from today, I will head to my home town for my 30-year high school reunion. Until now, I have not had any desire or inclination to show up at one of these events. Apart from the inquiry of a long-lost classmate a few years ago, I am not sure what kind of motivation is prompting me to join the festivities. I have arbitrarily assigned motives. Not sure how valid they are. I am ready to test them, though, on the fields of high school nostalgia.
Wondering how to prepare, emotionally and otherwise. I will not bring a padded resume, a spouse nor date, nor a fancy car. I will bring myself and my son and maybe a few memories—just enough to facilitate filling dead air in the middle of a gathering.
I don't know if it is being on the younger side of a threshold peering into middle age, but I have only minimal compulsions to impress or care about what anyone will think of me. Or maybe I just think that I am good enough as I am; or maybe my security comes in the hope that, in the next week and a half, I will not gain any more weight, not lose many more hairs and keep only the gray ones peaking out of the corners of my head.
But the biggest rationalized motivation, as I have told a lot of you, is that I am going back to my high school, not to chase fond memories or reconnect with old friends. I am going back to see how old I really am.
I look in the mirror every day. I see changes, but they are so gradual, do I notice the difference? Like when seeing my son after a week of vacation with his mother, he seems taller—because he is; but even clothes that no longer fit and a child that now fits into a men's size 9 shoe seem not to bring the message home as strongly as the difference before trip and after trip.
My current friends who are my age have children graduating college, are grandparents, have been widowed, and have reached other milestones that we could not imagine in the faces of our old class mates, peering from the pages of our old yearbooks.
As the time approaches, I am sure that there will be moments of a persistent low-grade nervous excitement or a little bit of dread. Both will be triggered by many aspects of my time in the halls and on the fields of that school. Even more will be carried by the prospect of running into the women on whom I once had school boy crushes.
I am not worried that anyone will realize that I was not as good of a student as they though I was, not as big of a hockey star as it felt like in that long-lost small world, and not worried that the kindness and niceness that I experienced from several of my class mates will likely fail to translate into the close intimate friendships that seemed impossible even then.
“When I look back on the the crap I learned in high school,” I still can't figure out what that was. Being at the Catholic high school, I learned that being a Baptist, I knew my Bible better than most of my Catholic classmates. I learned that Catholics were not the heathens that they were made out to be by some Baptists—even if they worshiped statues and did penance over grace for forgiveness. I learned a fight song that played for us each time me and my hockey teammates hit the ice or the football team took the field:
Fight, fight Crusaders
Big, brave and bold
Towering to the sky
Your banners, blue and gold
So onward to victory
Fight for your fame
With heads held high
Your battle's cry
Hey, team win this game!
Crusaders, Crusaders, rah rah rah!
(I remember one of my Baptist friends questioning the wisdom of nicknaming the school after the Crusades, not a pretty piece of Catholic church history, followed by noting the irony of our church's association with Campus CRUSADE for Christ.)
Maybe going back, I will learn something. Maybe I will remember things I learned but had forgotten. Maybe I will remember enough names and faces as to not be too embarrassed. I know I will be remembered.
I will be easily remembered not so much for who I am or was then as much for the fact that I was the only black kid in the school. In years past, I worried that some black guy would show up and be mistaken for me. I then realized that I did not really care, but felt sorry for the man who might have fallen into that discomfort zone. This time, it's me, the real thing.
And maybe my old classmates and I will learn a new perspective on that reality, that there was a black kid in the school and what that meant for him and for the rest of the school community, the good and the bad, the easy and hard, and the stuff that we are still learning today.
In the mean time, I will work on comfort zones, both for myself and for whomever I run into. (It will be better if I remember everyone's name.) I will wear a shirt to the picnic that I wore during my days at the school. (I don't think anyone will remember it.) I hope the reunion will be interesting. I hope it will be fun. I will pretend that I'm really not that old.
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