This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Fourm on July 9, 2007.
Last weekend I attended a reunion of my high school graduating class. It was the first time such a reunion ever had been organized by a member of the Mendocino High School Class of 1986 and the event marked the passage of two decades (and one year, but we’re kind of slow about these things on California’s North Coast) since I had the privilege of marching through our school gymnasium as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance” slightly out of tune.
I was glad to graduate, and I’ve never looked back on my teenaged years with sentimental longing. Like George Bailey, I wanted to graduate from high school, shake the dust of that little town off my feet and see the world. I wanted to grow up, and I have. Since high school I’ve traveled a bit. I’ve been well educated. I’ve become a husband and a father. I’ve cultivated and maintained wonderful friendships. I’ve gained respect in the career to which I’ve been called. I was a happy kid, but I’m a happier adult. I am grateful for the ways my life has been formed by adulthood and I hope it only gets better.
Because I don’t miss high school, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go to my high school class reunion. In fact, the prospect of seeing my erstwhile compatriots revived a host of dormant adolescent insecurities. I was one of those kids who orbits the “in” crowd like Pluto, sometimes a genuine planet, sometimes a large ball of intergalactic detritus. I was neither disliked nor particularly popular. I excelled in sports no one really cared about. I played the French horn. One likes to think such social discomfort can be outgrown like a hand-me-down pair of Toughskins, but life doesn’t really work that way.
I went to the reunion because there were a few people I really wanted to see, and I also was curious to meet my old classmates as adults. Besides, my sister-in-law was helping to organize the event and I felt that missing the party would show poor family spirit.
So off I went to face my past, leaving my children in the care of family and depending on the lovingly indulgent support of my wife.
And it turns out that I’m very glad I went. Socially, the reunion was more successful than anything I ever experienced with the same group of folks when we were in high school, so that was good.
More importantly, I was gratified to see how well most of the folks in my class have turned out. Some of my classmates graduated and went off into the world with very little in the way of family support or material advantage. There was a lot of drug use in our parents’ generation—marijuana cultivation was one of the few viable industries in those days—and a significant portion of my class came from broken and dysfunctional homes. Yet most of my classmates seem to have done well for themselves. Adulthood has been kind to them.
The good news is that the last chapter of our lives wasn’t written in high school, and that’s an important lesson to remember. The last chapter never is written. No human soul should be relegated to the dust heap of life. God does not create us with failure in mind. If some of my classmates can do as well as they have done, then so can the students who attend failing inner city schools, and so can the children of undocumented migrant workers.
If the children of my town, lost somewhere up behind the Redwood Curtain, can grow into adulthood with dignity, then life is filled with the kind of hope that can translate into actions with the potential to transform the world. Thank God. Life is good.