Note: I recently attended my 45th high school reunion. It was a wonderful experience to be welcomed by so many with whom I shared four very important years of my life. Classmates I was certain had forgotten me, came over with smiles and handshakes as if we had never been apart. On my return home, I recalled a short piece I wrote after my 30th reunion, the last one I attended prior to the 45th. Whenever I am certain I know someone, I need to remember to ask who they really are. Joe…here’s to you my friend. It was great to see you again.
“I felt alone—on the outside looking in,” Joe said as we stood at the bar.
No, that’s simply not possible. I was at my 30th high school reunion talking to the former captain of the football team…the ultimate insider. He was the guy those of us ‘truly’ on the outside often wished we could trade places with. He was the one raising a ruckus in the library, getting all the laughs. He had all the ‘right’ friends.
“Roger,” he continued, “I was the only one from my grade school to transfer to Catholic Central. All the rest of you arrived with friends. Do you know how alone I felt?”
There I was, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in a small town in Michigan and my world was being rearranged. Thirty-year-old thought patterns that affected who I was to become were being torn apart.
Why, I wonder, was it necessary for me to rewrite his life? Did I create him in a way that would reinforce the image I had of myself? Why was I so intimidated by who I made him to be that I was never able to inquire as to who he was? I would never have attempted such an inquiry, because the person I made him to be, would have laughed at my suggestion that he was lonely. I was certain he would have crushed me with a simple gesture that would have reinforced my self-image. I was so certain of who he was that there was no reason to even test the theory.
So now I wonder, what in my life today is real? Whose life am I rewriting as a predictable cliché, so that the quirks I implant into their life help me justify my own foibles? Who am I shoving into personality cubbyholes simply to explain who I am…or justify who I believe I am not?
Perhaps my challenge is not to be more authentic, but to put my insecurities aside long enough to allow you to be.
This was never on any of my high school exams. Perhaps it should have been.