When your high school reunion comes around, how do you feel?
Is it time for crash dieting, self-consciousness, or avoidance because life hasn’t turned out like you expected? Maybe you’re not rich, you’re not famous, you’re no longer married, you’re overweight, you’re sick, or let’s just face it—you’re old. And your yearbook title “most likely to succeed” didn’t exactly pan out. Or you are no longer close with any of those people. All legitimate concerns.
So you don’t go to the reunion, or you go with nervous hesitancy, or you go with a well-developed ruse. (You know, you’re a CIA operative, and your life consists of classified information.)
But if you are among the most fortunate, you love attending a reunion. That was me last Saturday.
When I bought my airline ticket, I whooped loud enough for my friends out in the Midwest to hear me. I was going home, and most of my favorite childhood friends were going to be there. This was more than a high school reunion. This was a resurrection of my past.
Growing up, I belonged to a small, close-knit community—a Christian school, a thriving church, a quintessential small town—and the people I remember from those years remain long-lost relatives to me. I lived in a Minnesota version of Mayberry. Aunt Bea, Goober, and Barney Fife were my family. Quirky or not, I couldn’t hug their necks fast enough.
My graduating class celebrated its 30-year high school reunion this year, but the reunion was given for all graduates of our little school during its 43-year history, actually organized by the class of 1984. Given the close relationships between grades, this plan was ideal. All of us who suffered through puberty together would be reassembled as wise adults. Affinity, nostalgia, and plain old curiosity brought a 100-plus people under one pavilion, all screaming and hugging and laughing simultaneously.
In a small school like ours, we had limited friend choices, so we knew each other well, almost like siblings. This made it hard to single out a “best friend,” hard to date, and let’s be honest–hard to break up. But as I raced, screeching with arms outstretched toward my former classmates, our school size unveiled itself as an overwhelming asset to my formative years.
I loved everyone at the reunion (at least the ones I knew—those young people seemed ill-placed). We older graduates laughed and cried until the darkness closed in and we were forced to leave. I found it incomprehensible that any of us had ever annoyed one another when we were teenagers. I now could imagine no better collection of gracious and well-adjusted people on the planet.
We recalled spirit days, practical jokes, parties, awards, all-school activities, buzzer-beaters, hairstyles, and teenage drama. All this and more flooded back as we walked the halls and pointed out the special places where we had created memories—where I fell off a cheerleading mount and broke my ankle, where one friend introduced another to the boy she would later marry, where we tortured student teachers and eeked out higher grades than we deserved, where we performed plays and won games and rehearsed concerts. Where we lived.
We remembered our teachers with fondness. Our history teacher handed out “Thousand word themes” like candy to kids who talked in his class; one classmate just kept copies in his binder, ready to go. Our French teacher’s eyes would tear up if we failed a test, and we had to hold our breath to keep from laughing over her distress. Our biology teacher produced pickled pigs and live frogs for dissection, and certain classmates would dive into the lab assignment, scalpel in hand, a little too creatively. Our algebra teacher endured so many pranks at our hands that he left the teaching profession. Not some of our finer moments. But undeniably funny.
At the reunion, we found ourselves intentionally remembering our past because those experiences not only formed our personalities, but they also provided the framework for our shared emotional connection. Memories are the reason we can love, forgive, and heal. Memories grant us perspective. Memories show that break-ups were necessary, sacrifices were critical, and grace is the only healer. They remind us that everyone is human. Everyone hurts, everyone worries, everyone fears, everyone makes poor choices. But community, especially a community rooted in the love of God, can seep into the frightened places we all have—the cracks in an otherwise airtight life—and press out the fears we harbor.
None of our lives are flawless, so hiding imperfections is pointless. The truth liberates. Life is about growth, and growth flourishes within community because an authentic community sees you as you really are and yet as the person you hope to become. It never sees you as the person you used to be.
I have one piece of advice to give after my odyssey home, and this is it:
Find a community of love and dig in deep. And if you’re blessed enough to already have one—even one from your long past—hold it close. Make the effort necessary to keep it current because a loving community makes us all more “likely to succeed.”
What fond memories of your past school days can you share? Your reunions? Please share below.