Stepping off the plane at Hartsfield, the nostalgia hit me with almost as much force as the humidity. I was back in town to celebrate twenty years since I left the hallowed halls of Chattahoochee High School. In the month leading up to this trip, I had alternating feelings of elation and trepidation. The former because I would get to see friends with whom I had lost touch. The latter because, and this may surprise you, I was remarkably uncool in high school.
Because I like to torture myself, I pictured horrible scenes of awkwardness and tears and that sinking feeling of drowning in a sea of people buoyed by their self-confidence. As it happened, all of my fears were for naught. To a person, my classmates were gracious, solicitous, interesting, hilarious, and just plain fun. We had a blast. We told stories of yore, chuckled at the follies of our youth, and made plans to see each other again soon. As we ambled out of the afterparty, the parting was saccharine in its sorrow.
The scene could have reverted to the physical and psychological skirmishes of our adolescence. Instead, it illustrated what happens when people lose their egos and emotions and just enjoy each other. My peers could have been pompous and guarded, trying to impress all with the extent of their accomplishments. In lieu, they were vulnerable and understanding. We talked of struggles, of divorces, of sick children, of the malaise that onsets in middle-ish age. Yes, we laughed, but also gave hugs laced with empathy.
To picture a dispute is to visualize its protagonists as two angry teenagers, no matter their age, screaming at each other for very little reason. Seventeen-year-olds have hormones to excuse them and even that is a thin explanation. Anyone with a high school education has the capacity to reconcile the passions coursing through them with their duty to humanity. Sadly, very few use this power. Instead, we lose ourselves in our base, easy impulses, the kind that rule the high school years.
I went to a large high school. We had shared experiences, but they were necessarily compartmentalized by the segmentation inherent in any sizeable institution. And yet, when we came back together, we chose to embrace our commonality instead of letting those divisions define us. Yes, there were cheerleaders and nerds and theater kids and jocks and every other subculture in our reunited midst. But, in the end, we were all just Cougars facing the slings and arrows of life.
To be sure, our mutual history was checkered. Lots of breakups and hurt feelings and hazing and other torments large and small. Chatter prior to the reunion brought these disastrous times into the conversation. Open, honest communication made us extra cognizant of the traumas that many had experienced and set the stage for forgiveness and compassion. It was a catharsis to confront the demons of those times and realize that the spectres of the past were indeed spectral.
I hesitate to extrapolate the lessons of my reunion to the rest of the world. And yet, I can’t help but feel that if a bunch of loosely-confederated suburban kids can figure out how to treat each other well, that it gives hope to us all.