I was less than five minutes into my 30th high school reunion last weekend when I formed the question of the night in my head: Is it better to hear ‘You haven’t changed a bit’ or ‘Wow, I didn’t recognize you’ as a greeting?
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Maybe it’s partly the life coach in me, but I’m going with the latter as my personal choice.
This occurred to me when I walked into cocktail hour and one guy I didn’t recognize pointed to his badge with his yearbook photo and laughingly said, “This was when I used to be handsome.” I looked down at the bland girl in my badge photo – made all the easier with reading glasses -- and thought, “Thank God you were a late bloomer.”
Photo references notwithstanding, this is not meant to be a commentary on looks, although that is certainly part of the equation. What we exude is ideally coming from an outside that is reflecting our inner selves. Ugly inside will show itself eventually despite even the glitziest, well-preserved exterior, just as a state of hopeful-but-awkward manifests physically. That was me in high school. I blended into the woodwork, was withdrawn, longed to be liked, and was habitually putting people on pedestals. I was also smart, knew I could write and had a fire in my belly that burns to this day.
It was interesting to circulate a Hilton banquet room and see how connections were made, who was still caught up in cliques, whose identities seemed still wrapped up in their high school image, who had transcended the formative gawkiness and who still liked to gossip with the best of ‘em. What I enjoyed most were the screams of delight when former classmates and I recognized each other so many years later. Second to that was dancing to the swirling disco tunes and driving classic rock of our late ’70s generation and observing with a chuckle who can still move and whose gyrations were still all about getting attention. One friend and I exchanged a few “some things never change” laughs that brought us right back to 1979.
What also struck me was how the touching human side showed itself even in the most casual, surface exchanges as some of our adult insecurities emerged -- why this person is a stay-at-home mother and not “working,” why another is only using a fraction of her professional skill set, why this one’s significant other isn’t with her, and why so-and-so never left the area. Then, of course, there’s the guy that nervously introduces his wife when you hug or kiss him hello.
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As one who had insecurities about my unconventional choices for years, it was on the whole a liberating evening. My choices have been good for me. Sometimes taking the road less traveled can be a terrific thing, especially when your maturity catches up and you relax into it. It’s empowering and gratifying.
I recall pegging some people back in high school as “worldly.” I’m not sure what that meant to me back then, but what I know now is that one girl I thought was super cool and could conquer the world is afraid to go to New York City (about a one-hour train ride from where we grew up). My graduating class was over 700 strong and about 200 attended last weekend; of those, more than half still live in the county where we grew up. I’m not sure how that stacks up against other classes, but what I do know is I’m as surprised as any that I was one who “got out” and went the urban route.
So much became clear. What’s parochial to one is a groundedness and feeling of being entrenched in the community to another. When you put people on pedestals they can only come tumbling down. It is silly and not at all productive to worry about what other people think. Some people do not change at their core and some are on a constant quest for growth.
I like the latter choice. It feels right for me.