I’m going home this weekend…not home as in my home nestled in Old Town Manassas Virginia, but home, to that small gem of a town in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania…back to Tunkhannock. I don’t go home very often these days, but this weekend I am meeting a group of folks from high school for dinner and drinks. We seem to be doing this more frequently as we move closer to middle age (I refuse to believe I’m there yet) and truly, I wish I had known each of them in high school on the level I have gotten to know them over the past several years.
For a while, I thought it was “just a facebook thing” but lately, there are phone conversations and long emails, dinners and social gatherings. We laugh together, marvel at each other’s kids, argue about politics, and cry together. It’s been so heartwarming to hear about their personal journeys. Some have found great success on their chosen path…others are still searching for that "thing" that will lead them down the path to the life they’ve always dreamed of for themselves. Some journeys just take longer than others, and I’m speaking from personal experience. One thing that has become abundantly clear – there is more that binds us together than sets us apart. Perhaps it’s that small town northeastern PA mentality that keeps us entertwined. Whatever it is, I’m thankful that I share that common thread with so many. It makes me feel like I truly belong to something wonderful…a fraternity of people with the same memories…Memorial Day parades down Tioga Street, Friday night football games, dawn til dusk movie night at the drive-in, plodding through Gay Murray’s on a Saturday morning with Dad looking for nothing in particular, donuts from Gable’s bakery, the list goes on and on. I treasure each one of those memories.
Last night I had a phone conversation with a former high school classmate who reminded me that we didn’t really know each other in high school, and her words rang so true. We didn’t hang out. In fact, other than passing her in the hall or seeing her on the football field (she was the cute cheerleader and I was a geeky band member) we never even really spoke. I thought I knew a lot about her, but apparently, I didn’t know anything about her at all. After chatting for half an hour, I was amazed at how similar our life experiences were, and it warmed my heart. Suddenly I wondered why I hated high school so much, and why I never really bothered to interact more with those around me. Was my entire high school experience something I made up in my head? I wonder about that sometimes. Maybe high school seemed so awful because I chose for it to be that way. Who was I in high school anyway? I can tell you who I thought I was. I was the girl who always considered herself just a little weird and who often said the wrong thing at the wrong time, soliciting strange looks for those around her. I was the girl with the bad skin, red hair and considered myself fat and homely. I was the girl who was sure she'd be a virgin FOREVER. I didn’t hang out with the “cool” people, and I wasn’t confident enough to push myself to test my limits and boundaries. I was mostly just miserable. It wasn’t until about four years ago when a friend posted a photo of me taken on prom night that I realized I was never any of those things that plagued my memory. I was cute, I had great hair, and most importantly, I was a nice person. I was dumbfounded by how much I actually liked that girl in the photo, and for the first time, I felt as though I had really sold myself short. I should have spent more time being me, instead of being who I though I was supposed to be, or the person people expected me to be. I try to explain that to my daughter as she approaches her teenage years. Is she listening? Probably not, but I would love it if her high school experience was something more positive than mine.
I believe the whole experience of high school would have been much more pleasant, the memories would have been so much sweeter, if we had taken a moment to really learn something about the person sitting next to us in Mr. Podloski’s geometry class, or invited that one person who seemed so alone to sit at our table during lunch. But kids are kids – self-centered and unthinking in their interaction with others, careless in their words and deeds, seemingly invincible and crazy in their actions, and sometimes downright stupid. I know that I never really took the time to get to know a lot of people back then, but what I have discovered in recent years is truly extraordinary…those same people from high school that I now know just a bit better are caring, compassionate, opinionated, occasionally annoying, but mostly, some of the most witty and intelligent people I have ever known. These semi-annual gatherings of miscellaneous classmates have become very important to me, as they provide me with a touchstone and true reminder of what it was like “back in the day” when I had not a real care in the world. Back then, I believed that mostly everyone was good, that no one REALLY meant to hurt anyone, and the two smartest people in my life were my mom and my dad. I truly miss those days. God, I sound old.
I've traveled my own long, winding, and sometimes exhausting path in my life and I consider it an honor to share so many experiences with those I now call “friends.” I hope they realize that if I take a moment to post something on their wall or photos, or let them know in some simple way that they are on my mind, it is because, no matter how inconsequential that moment may seem, they are an important part of my life. Most of them will never know how much true satisfaction I get in knowing that they are all safe and sound (at least for the most part) and happily ensconced in their lives with their families and loved ones. I love to hear their stories, fawn over photos of their children and grandchildren and beloved pets, and share a bit of time together even though most of us are running at light speed every day. Taking time to step back and reflect, and share, is what makes life grand.
I'm not sure who will read this, maybe not a soul, but it's been written with all the sincerity I have in my heart. To those of you I’ve mentioned (and you know who you are) thank you for every morsel you have added to this really delicious chocolate chip cookie of a life...one that is rich in really great friendships, lots of love and laughter, and more happiness that I had ever hoped for…ever. I’m such a lucky girl.