As I return from my high school reunion and reflect on all that happened this past weekend, I come away with a better picture of many of my classmates and an awareness of the limitations of, for lack of better word, nostalgia.
On Saturday, after lunching at Skyline Chili with some classmates, I decided to go out alone to see the school. In revisiting my old haunts, I might better recall what I had felt as an adolescent, my hopes and well as my fears, the excitement as well as the anxiety.
I experienced none of that.
You see, six years ago (or so), they tore down the building that had served as the Upper School when I was a student and replaced it with a modern monstrosity. They didn’t even spare the entryway which had a certain archetypal significance to many alumni. Instead of recalling my past, I became quite depressed, visiting a place where I had experienced much, but which had no physical resemblance to the high school I had once attended.
As I walked around campus, looking for familiar face, I saw only one, the teacher/coach I had least to wanted to see. I resisted the temptation to tell him off for never congratulating me or even encouraging me even after I had run much better than he had expected in my first Cross Country races in high school.
I hurried away from the school and found a certain comfort in helping my Dad hang pictures in his newly-repainted basement.
That night, at the dinner with my classmates — as at the cocktail reception the previous night — I saw a different side to my one-time peers. We had a small class (67) and with not everyone returning, there were too few of us to separate into our adolescent cliques. As a result, we all talked to one another; I learned that many of those whom I had assumed had just coasted through high school had also difficult times in their teenage years.
It seemed everyone had had some kind of difficulty and some who seemed part of the social mainstream, reported that they, like me, had felt outsiders in high school. In talking to them, I gained a greater appreciation for their difficult situations — even as they differed from my own. Perhaps I understood those who, in our high school days, had seemed so popular because it no longer mattered to me whether or not they liked me. I was no longer trying to impress them. As an adult with such an attitude, I could better see them as they were, as they are.
No longer envying their social success, I saw them as real people. No longer believing that happiness meant being like those with such (apparent) success, I was not afraid to come out to them as gay. Perhaps, I was a bit too forthcoming about my sexuality. I did talk about the blog — but I suffered no adverse reaction for it, not for my sexuality nor for my politics.
One classmate (a woman I had known since kindergarten, but hadn’t seen since high school) asked in a compassionate tone, when I knew I was gay. While I noted that I had been attracted to guys in high school, I hadn’t made the definitive link between that attraction and my sexuality until after college. Upon learning I was gay, another classmate apologized for having asked me if I was married. I laughed and said that he needn’t apologize. Another offered to fix me up with his sister until I informed him that she was the “wrong gender.”
In short, the revelation of my sexuality prompted curiosity rather than scorn.
The one thing that seemed to unite all our classmates, beyond our graduation from the same high school, was that each of us seemed to have suffered some great disappointment, some great difficulty in our adult years. And that realization helped me put my own sufferings into context. That, whereas at times, I had seemed cursed, it seemed that all of my classmates (at least with whom I talked at length) could (at one time or another) have made a similar evaluation of their own lives.
The first wife of one of the most decent men in our class left him for another man while wives of two additional classmates died in their thirties. A woman had to deal with severe health problem of a child while another classmate’s son had a learning disability. Others experienced untimely divorces or suffered when relationships did not work out as they had hoped.
That is, in the years since I last saw these people, no one had had a life that went as smoothly as we might have expected — or hoped — when we sat together at our graduation, looking forward to bright futures. At the same time, I realized that those whose lives I had once assumed to be smooth and carefree were anything but.
If anything, this reunion made me more compassionate to my fellow man, especially my high schoolmates whose apparent social success I once envied. It helped me see my own misfortunes not as a curse, but as part and parcel of a human life.
I’m glad I went back, even if I did not get to revisit my old adolescent haunts, the hallways where I had spent so much of my life and where I had dreamed of a future as far from that place as I could possibly imagine. This reunion was not so much about the place as about the people. And I saw my classmates in a different light than that of an anxious and isolated adolescent uncomfortable with his own difference.
No longer uncomfortable about that difference, I could better see them as they were and appreciate their lives even as they differed from my own. And be grateful for who I am — and the journey I have taken since I last saw them. Looking back at my life and getting a perspective on those of my erstwhile classmates, I hear the great Oscar Hammerstein‘s words from Oklahoma!: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else/But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!”
While I was familiar with those lyrics twenty-five years ago, I could not then have applied them to my high school classmates — or to myself. But, today, just days after my reunion, today, I can.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)