This week I'm sharing three perspectives on the decision of whether or not to attend a twenty year high school reunion. All three voices are from the same high school in a small town, so the circumstances (school, town, class, dynamics) are roughly similar. And yet each approach to this event was different. Read Part One and Part Two.
This is a guest post from my oldest friend Andy. You might remember him from Dear Drew.
We are built in layers. I mean, I know that’s not a novel idea. I’m not offering some unique insight to life here that’s never been illuminated. I am sure it’s been detailed by way smarter people and explained with exquisite clarity and way-more-clever-than-I-can-ever-come-up-with metaphors, like wallpaper or cake (see, that’s the best I can do). Honestly, though, it’s the best explanation I have ever found on how to describe myself, my identity, and my experiences.
Maybe the layers are built with time, every passing year adding a new one, or maybe they are built on moments, like a wedding or the birth of a child. Maybe it’s all of the above. Outer layers tend to be built tough and opaque, especially in our youth, yet seem to be the easiest to peel off; inner layers are hardly visible and harken to earlier days and experiences. I’m rather agnostic to all the deeper meanings and origins of the layers, but what I do know is that I possess my own unique set. True to form, many of my outer layers have changed significantly over time and experience, some of the inner layers have not. Many of my new outer layers I have purposefully rebuilt to be more transparent so my inner layers could shine more readily though. I say this is probably the process of growing up. This is how we age and mature. We change some layers, and let others shine through. Maybe it’s for the better, or for some it could be for the worse, but our layers change, evolve and mature.
I wanted to return to my high school reunion for the simple purpose of allowing my new layers to be seen, ones that I thought more accurately allowed what lies underneath to shine through and ones that much more significantly were connected to me. New layers that were not there 20 years ago, not even 10 years ago, but core layers that always were. I won’t beat around the bush here, transparency is something I strive for in my adult life and truth, as the good book says, sets me free so the plain truth is that after high school, I came out of the closet.
While this story is not about that moment per se, it is central to the understanding that I hid a very significant part of myself from people who in many ways were like extended family (as such is the case when you grow up in a small town where high school classmates are also your pre-school classmates). Overall, my memories of my childhood were warm and happy, and my impression of my classmates were positive and benevolent, but was it really me they were seeing? So it was important that I revealed a truer me to them, and by that, I don’t mean making a political statement or flaunting a lifestyle, but instead, showing a core self that may not have been so obvious 20 years ago. That they saw in me confidence and contentment, joy and happiness, and a true conviction for a life lived with a sense of purpose and direction.
I don’t know in hindsight how successful I was in achieving that purpose, but something else happened entirely that caught me by a huge surprise. With all this build up on how I was striving to be really seen, what struck me most was what I saw instead. I saw people that were confident and happy, purposeful and directed, and completely pleasant and content in life. Overall, they were just a great joy to be around.
A successful reunion can be that way I guess. Maybe it takes 20+ years to get there, but those exterior high school shells do at some point melt and what’s left underneath is something quite common and quite human, a connection that is rather more the same than we ever expected.
I guess in the end, in an event that classically thrives on the concept of being seen, I ended up seeing the one thing that maybe only this special group of people could show me. People, who literally were with me at the same time and space when my core layers were being built. In the end, I saw me.