(To my usual readers: I apologize for the non-cricket post!)
People love to hate high school reunions. The prevailing wisdom is that it is a waste of time to go back to the old hometown and spend an evening not talking to people you don’t know, and probably won’t like, who were once people you knew and actually didn’t like.
“I didn’t like those people when I was in school,” one of my friends responded when I mentioned my high school reunion. “Something tells me that hasn’t changed.”
We all remember what it was like in high school, right? Cliques, bullies, rejection, hassles…never mind the fact that we were all just trying to figure out the meaning of life. At least, that seems to be the high school we often want to remember. And, let’s face it: There were bad things. Bad people. Racists. Jerks. Misogynists. People who picked on you. People you picked on. People who ostracized you. People you ostracized.
As my own 30-year reunion date approached, it would have been easy for me to fall into this type of thinking. Just remember bad stuff. After all, I was a 90-pound weakling when I graduated. I was a geek whose jeans were often too short and who was too afraid of deep social interaction to form really close relationships. Don’t get me wrong: I knew a lot of people, and had a lot of school friends. I cracked jokes. I tried to be nice and friendly. I was just … well, shy might be an understatement. I was such a mess that, although my fondness for the female sex was (and remains) at an atmospherically high level, I never once asked a girl out. Not in all of high school. Even though there were several I really, really wanted to ask out (no names, sorry!). I was too afraid. You get the picture, right? It would be very easy for my human memory to filter things through this lens of shyness, backwardness and social aloofness, and for me be one of those naysayers who decides to skip yet another reunion.
But as my wife and I walked into my 30-year reunion, the first thing I saw was a stark reminder of the things we should remember about our high school class, and about ourselves: A huge, handmade “get well” and support card for a classmate who is suffering from cancer … and a jar for contributions to help send him to get an experimental treatment. This was more than just people getting together to stand in cliques, have some food and a beer and talk about Mr. Ellis the crazy social studies teacher. It was about community.
Community is something we strive for in our culture, and yet it is something we destroy by our own actions. We sit in our cubicles at work, then drive home alone in our cars, and pull into our identical houses in our identical suburbs and hole up until time to go back to work or church or kids’ activities. We read and post political diatribes on Facebook, watch reality television and feel superior about how crazy everyone else is (and that we don’t have to deal with “those people”).
But we forget one very important fact: We are—each of us—one of “those people.”
So, instead of the lens that a smug, faulty memory and pop culture would provide us to remember high school, let’s use as our lens a group of aging rebels gathered in the back of a bowling alley on an October night in 2012.
After the card I mentioned above, one of the first things I noticed was that nobody wanted to sit down (except when we were eating of course). We wanted to stay standing as much as possible, so we could walk around and talk to one another. There was lots of hugging. There was lots of noise. Laughter. Smiles. Stories about those present, and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make it. Stories about our lives then and now. Stories that reconnected us … or showed that we are always connected.
We shared stories about that one fight we were in. Stories about how we avoided fights. Stories about hallway antics and being sent to the dean and going to ball games. Stories about what it was like to be ourselves, fully alive in the moment.
It was, as critics like to say about reunions, a lot like high school. But in a good way.
Do you remember it now? Do you remember what it was like to be in a community of people who were different from you, but the same? People to whom our differences didn’t matter as much as we would all like to think? People who could find common ground between all of these “other” things that could keep us apart?
That common ground was that we were Muncie Southside Rebels. We were the school on the “wrong” side of the tracks. It was us against “them.” Sure, in many ways it was a social construct into which we were forced by geography. But living in a social construct doesn’t create a community. We were a community because we really needed to be. Wanted to be.
The other day my wife and I heard some cheerleaders doing their bit to drum up crowd support for their team. I don’t recall the exact cheer, but it struck me that all they were really saying was “Yay, us! We are us!” It sounds kind of silly. But it isn’t.
1982: We are us. We are female, male, white, black, Hispanic, straight, gay, tall, short, buff, round, KISS-loving, Kenny Rogers-loving, Donna Summer-loving, Dallas-loving, Dallas-hating, athletic, geeky, wise-ass, serious, smoking, non-smoking, drinking, tee-totaling, engaged, single, democrat, republican, independent people. We are sons, daughters, cousins, friends, lovers. We are shy, lonely, outgoing, loving, mean, hurt, healed. We are as different as snowflakes. We are as similar as rays of sunlight.
2012: We are us. We are female, male, white, black, Hispanic, straight, gay, tall, short, buff, round, bald, gray, young-looking, decrepit, football—loving, football-hating, cricket-loving, cricket-ignoring, Snooki-watching, Snooki-ignoring, athletic, geeky, wise-ass, serious, smoking, non-smoking, drinking, tee-totaling, married, divorced, remarried, single, democrat, republican, independent people. We are truck drivers, veterans, peace-lovers, accountants, teachers, bartenders, writers. We are moms, dads, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, friends, lovers. We are shy, lonely, outgoing, loving, mean, hurt, healed. We are as different as snowflakes. We are as similar as rays of sunlight.
Looking around at everyone in the back of the bowling alley, it struck me that some things never change. I’m not talking about stagnation. We grow as people. We have to. But as we smiled and talked and laughed and hugged, all the “other” stuff fell away. We were ourselves. Fully alive. In the moment.
Perhaps my lens is a little out of focus, or perhaps I walked through a Happy Juice Fogger. But I see it. Do you?
We are us.
So I guess high school reunions aren’t so bad, are they? For a few hours we are reminded of who we really are; that, in many ways, who we are now is who we were then. Before life walked in and sat on our shoulders and bent our backs and told us how things are supposed to be in the “real world.” When we could sit next to or talk to a druggie, or someone in KISS makeup, or someone wearing a suit and tie, or a cheerleader or a geek and have none of it really matter.
This is not all to say that we are all perfect and get along all the time and choose to hang out with everyone all the time. Far from it. We had and have cliques. We have people with whom we share more in common and with whom we choose to spend most of our time. We were and are mean to people. We are human beings.
The point is what happens in those spaces between our likes and dislikes, and all those characteristics I listed above. The point is that those spaces between aren’t as wide as the world tells us they are (or should be). In fact, when we meet there they begin to overlap and all that stuff gets clouded and pushed aside and we are simply there, with each other, caring and sharing and laughing and hugging. Is it me, or does that sound a little bit like what everybody wishes life in a community would be like?
So I guess we Muncie Southside Rebels from the class of 1982 already know the secret to being a community.
It’s love, man. Say it with me. Love. Not just loving others. Loving yourself enough to let those around you be themselves. And our time growing up on Muncie’s south side and in Muncie Southside helped us become people who can do that.
Do you get it now?
We are us.
See you all in five years, if not sooner!