Recently I reconnected with two old high school friends online. I hadn't seen either one in two decades, so I was a little apprehensive at first about meeting them again after all that time. I didn't have many close friends in high school, and even though I knew both of these guys from numerous classes and school activities going all the way back to junior high and considered them friends, I didn't really know them all that well.
So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that I am remembered in a generally positive light, at least by a few people. Last weekend we caught up over drinks, talking about former classmates and how each of us has spent the last 20 years of our lives. It was also fun to see how much was still familiar, despite all of the changes that inevitably take place over that much time.
When I graduated from high school I lost no time getting away from home; I enrolled in a college a thousand miles away and never looked back. Aside from flying back home for Christmas every year, I only kept in touch with one old friend; it would be 14 years before I finally moved back to my home state. High school wasn't a completely bad time for me - our school had strong academics and a vibrant music program - but it was nonetheless a largely unhappy period of my life, and high school as an institution stood out in my mind as a symbol of that unhappiness.
Getting away from all of that was the goal I spent my last two years of high school working toward, as I literally counted the days until I could leave for college. College was my big opportunity to get on with my life, to establish my own identity, to get away from a home where I was anything but happy.
In retrospect I was also running away, hoping that all of my problems would stay behind. I wanted to magically cease to be that socially inept, painfully insecure kid with way too much deeply-buried anger, whose desperate attempts to be a good Christian by trying to apply all of those "biblical" formulas that sounded so simple on Sunday morning seldom accomplished anything beyond feeding a growing well of self-hatred.
And college was a great time for me, even if the theology I was taught there was only incrementally less dogmatic than what I had grown up with. I learned a lot (both in and out of the classroom), built some great friendships and did a lot of growing in those four years - but I still had to deal with all of the issues I'd hoped to leave dead and buried with my high school years. Overcoming them has taken a lifetime of work, and I can't say I'm finished yet.
Had information about my high school reunions reached me, I probably wouldn't have gone. I definitely would have avoided my ten-year reunion because I wasn't ready to unpack all of those memories, and may well have stayed home from my 20-year reunion out of apprehension for how people remembered me.
It came as a moment of grace, then, to be reassured that at least a few of the people who knew me back then remember me in a positive light. Perhaps it shouldn't have been any great revelation that my classmates were too busy getting through their own days and dealing with the challenges of adolescence to be zeroed in on my problems and shortcomings. Yet I still found myself in need of a little external validation to show me that it's safe now to revisit that period in my life, and that I can spend at least as much time remembering the positive as I do the negative.
Not that there's enough money in the world to talk me into going back in time to relive those years, mind you. But I'll hang onto the memories, the good as well as the bad.