I got a disturbing Facebook message the other day. It was an invitation to join a group called “Columbia High School Class of 1994”.
Apparently, this year will be my 20th high school reunion. These words roll off my tongue and seem just as surreal as the knowledge that in another 20 years, I will be almost 60. At what point does the “you”that exists deep inside yourself match your actual age?
I remember sitting in my English class as a senior in high school. My teacher, trying to make a point to a room full of naive and egocentric teenagers, uttered some words that I have never forgotten.
“Look around. After you graduate, you will never, ever be in a room with exactly this same group of people again.”
Of course it made perfect sense, but I had never really contemplated life outside of high school. Suddenly I felt oddly nostalgic for a group of people that, with only a few exceptions, weren’t even friends of mine.
He went on to elaborate. He spoke of how, for some of us, we were at the peak of our physically best self, while others were nowhere close. He spoke of how many of us would go on to do grand things, while others would not. And, he spoke of how, statistically speaking, at least 1 or 2 out of our group of 20 or so would not live to see our 20th reunion. I remember looking around, studying my classmates, shocked by the honesty (brutality?) of his words.
He was right about all of it, of course. How we have succeeded, collectively, and how we have faltered. How we’ve succeeded because we’ve faltered. And, how we struggle to remain young, and vibrant, and beautiful.
I can vividly remember my 17 year old self… how it felt to live inside her skin. Preoccupied with the surface… so much dictated by thoughts of the outside.
I remember sitting in that classroom and distinctly hoping that I wasn’t one of the ones who had already “peaked”… it never occurred to me that I could just as easily be one of the ones who wouldn’t have the luxury of reminiscing 20 years later.
And, of course, he was devastatingly accurate about that part as well. I remember those beautiful 17 year old faces, radiating life, and I can not fathom that I will not see them at the age of 37.
They still live, as they once did, so many years ago in the classroom of my memory. Julie, with her larger than life laugh and constant smile. David, with his kind heart and studious nature.
I can’t help but wonder what thoughts they had during that English class. Did they brush away their own mortality, as I did? Or did our teacher’s words sit longer on their shoulders, foreshadowing their future?
I think about them a lot these days… them, and the others too… I think about them as I get ready for work, as I clean the house, as I tuck my children into bed at night, as I sit and write. There is so much beauty existing in our ordinary experiences… especially when you remind yourself of those who do not get to live them.