It can be amazing sometimes to think of how self-centered our adolescent lives were. I was fourteen when my family moved from New York to South Carolina and while most folks made me feel very welcome there, there were a few who clearly didn’t. And being painfully shy didn’t help. Being new in town can feel isolating but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wasn’t the only “new kid in school.” Ours was perhaps the only class to attend the brand new Northwestern High School for four consecutive years and those four years were the extent of my life in Rock Hill.
Even among those who were always welcoming, there is a sense of feeling out of place when you don’t share a history. Many of you grew up together. You attended elementary school and middle school together. Some even went on to college together. And many have stayed, if not in Rock Hill, at least nearby. You have a history, and maybe even a “now.”
But for those of us who were only there a short time, our memories may have faded more than yours. Some of you I remember well while others I need to be reminded of. As each update on our reunion site comes through I run to my yearbooks to see if I can put a face with a name, bring up some old memory that I can dust off, and reconnect the dots of the past. Sometimes a name is familiar, sometimes a face, and rarely, a memory of some moment in time, a feeling, or some shared connection will come back. It was just four years, forty years ago.
I wonder how many of you remember those of us who were with you for such a short time. We were just high school kids – one kid in a sea of many faces, at a time when we weren’t likely to have made profound impressions on anyone. How many of us even noticed the new kids or noticed how short their time was with us?
And now forty years later, as we plan a re-union, we may meet for the first time. Or we may meet again and it will be as if we parted yesterday. But more likely for many, we will be meeting strangers we once knew or old friends for the first time. How much of life has happened in forty years? We’ve all had our successes and our failures, our celebrations and our sorrows. There have been comings and goings, births and deaths, sadness and hopefully, much joy. Some among us may not have changed – we may recognize you from your graduation picture or discover your life has been exactly as you planned it 40 years ago while others have become entirely different people or have simply grown into a potential we hadn’t glimpsed and couldn’t have imagined.
We are a tapestry of diversity with ever changing colors and shapes, a tapestry that tells multitudes of stories from varying perspectives.
Reunions help to weave those tapestries anew – with both the telling of stories and the keeping of secrets, both the making or strengthening of deep connections and the simplicity of superficial smiles. All are freshly sewn together with recollections of the joys of our youth and the angst of our adolescence.
As our lives intersect again for only a day or two, will you censure yourself to guard the facade you carry or will you throw caution to the wind and reveal your vulnerability? How will you sum up the past forty years or even just relate who you’ve become in that brief window of a conversation?
As for me, I’ve yet to decide about attending reunion. It’s relatively easy to take time from work at that time of year although the expense of travel does make it difficult to justify. But perhaps the biggest reason I’m undecided is that same self-centeredness I opened with about our adolescent years. I’m still shy and I’d be coming alone (my wife wouldn’t want to attend nor would I want to put her through it!) Attending any event alone is difficult for those of us who are shy and introverted. I don’t have a lot of history there and except for a few old classmates, I don’t know if any would even remember me. And whether pressed upon us or self-imposed, that sense of being an outsider, of being a new kid in town can be very uncomfortable for an introvert. Who knows, perhaps I will try to stretch my inner extrovert, expand my horizon and meet some strangers I used to know.
I confess I’ve never read the book You Can’t Go Home Again but the phrase itself has taken on a life of its own in our everyday language. How often we hear folks say it because they’ve tried to return to a particular place that they once did call home only to find that it just wasn’t what they remembered or hoped it would be.
I recently visited the town I lived in when I was in high school (40 years ago). As I drove through my old neighborhood I was astounded by the new housing developments, although why I would be astounded at this after 40 years is really inexplicable! But as I drove on, I found myself noticing and remembering “that was Johnny’s house, there’s Jeannie’s house and there’s where Frieda lived.” I turned the corner and recognized the house I had lived in (with some improvements over the years but basically the same) and yet it wasn’t home — it was merely a memory. I vaguely remember the childhood homes of some other friends and what I believe their neighborhoods looked like, but I couldn’t have found any of them if I tried. We drove past the high school and some old landmarks, and while I recognized a few of these and some of the street names, I wouldn’t be able to find my way around at all.
I’ve had the pleasure of reconnecting with a few of my old friends from those days through FB but my memory isn’t good so I’ll see the names and faces of others from my class but the names are from so long ago and the faces have changed over these 40 years. Some I recognize while others are only vaguely familiar, and while many of them remember each other, I suspect many would not remember me. They had gone through grade school together and grew up in town sharing the memories of childhood into their teen years and beyond. Many have stayed or moved just a short distance, maintaining strong ties to the community of their youth. I was just a temporary/passing acquaintance for most as a shy girl who had moved in and out in just 4 short years.
Our high school days were a different world. We didn’t discuss politics; we weren’t talking about multiculturalism or justice issues; there was an underpinning of racism, of classism and of sexism that weren’t talked about much and we certainly didn’t discuss sexuality. We were just kids — learning to drive, perhaps partying a bit too much, struggling with school work (or not), cheering on our sports teams, working part-time jobs and/or volunteering. It wasn’t idyllic like the nostalgia of the 1950s, we weren’t immune to suffering — we saw some of our friends become teenage mothers and we buried a few of our classmates, others suffered life-altering injuries, and, often unbeknownst to us, others were facing problems we couldn’t even imagine. As our lives changed we didn’t know who we would become or if we’d want to know the adults our friends would become.
Reconnecting after all these years we find that we may not have as much in common as we once thought. We’ve become Republicans, Democrats and Independents; pro-choice and pro-life; gun supporters and gun control supporters; gay, straight, bisexual and transgender; Christian, Muslim, Jew and atheist; the lists can go on and on. But social media has opened up the world to us in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed possible. We can reconnect despite our differences, and the distance social media affords allows us a space to express our opinions, disagree and still be “friends.”
While I was traveling I didn’t get much chance to meet up with folks I had known in high school except for the three days I was blessed to spend with one very dear friend. When we were girls in high school we likely didn’t know who we would become ourselves, much less who the other would become. And yet, on some level we did know who we were in our hearts, how that would inspire us to become who we are today and that our kindred spirits would recognize each other even if our eyes did not.
“You can’t go home again” — the words resounded in my head. There was little I recognized about the town where I had spent my youth, it wasn’t home, it was only a dim memory. It seems like a nice town — the population has doubled and the town has been built up beyond recognition — but it isn’t my town. As much as I loved it when I was there, I don’t think it ever really was.
And then there’s another saying we have about home — home is where the heart is. Like I said, it seems like a nice town and I did love it when I was there, but it isn’t where my heart is. If I had to define a place, a location where my heart is, it would have to be mid-coast Maine, a place I never really lived but is somehow home for me. It’s a beautiful, serene place along a rocky coast where I travel whenever I have the chance. It’s also a place where I’ve had some of my deepest spiritual epiphanies. But while this beautiful rocky coast calls to me, it is only a place, an amazingly beautiful one where I can be at one with myself and my surroundings, but nevertheless only a place. Perhaps home isn’t necessarily a place but rather a way of being.
I rather think that home is not so much where the heart is as our hearts are where our home is. Visiting with my friend was a homecoming. Not because I was returning to a place I once called home, but rather because I was coming home to someone/something in my heart. My heart is filled with special people — my wife (who will always be the heart of my heart, the love of my life and my home at all times in all ways); dear friends, near and far, old and new, present or not; family members of all generations, known and not known.
What a joy to know that I can go home again. To know that home is not a place where I have to go to touch those in my heart but rather that by touching those in my heart, I find myself at home. And when I am blessed to see those in my heart face to face, whether we were last together this morning or 40 years ago, our hearts won’t know the span of time — we will know each other and pick up where we left off as if it were only yesterday.