Monday, September 23, 2013

High School Reunion - The "Ah-ha" Moment

The evening was filled with little things that would come together and become bigger things as the evening progressed.

Before the little things started to accumulate, there were many tedious moments. The moments that don't matter. Small talk. I don't do small talk well. I can't talk about things-that-don't-matter for hours on end.

The boys lined up along one wall. They chatted amongst themselves. It felt like the popular crowd were mixing and I was back where I was back in 1975. The wallflower. The girl that no one noticed. The girl that wanted to melt into the background and become nothing more than an 'extra' in the movie reel called My High School Years.

One girl walked up to me and lifted up my name tag and read my name. "Nope, I don't know you", and she walked on without a backwards glance. It was so rude (and so typical of the reaction that I truly expected) that I laughed to myself. It's going to be a long night...

Others approached me and told me a small piece of their story. They were the girls that 'didn't graduate' with the class. They had graduated out of high school and into Real Life early when they had their first child as the rest of the class waited out their Grade 12 year and graduated with a Grade 12 Diploma instead. I belonged to graduation-into-real-life-early  club.

I was such a forgettable presence throughout my high school years. I was so forgettable that I don't even remember being there myself. The only proof that I attended high school is my report cards and my face in the yearbook at the end of the year. I didn't expect anyone to remember me because I had no memory of anyone from those years either.

The evening progressed and I became a small bit more courageous than the meek and mild 15 year old that walked through the door during the cocktail hour. I recognized some faces from the popular crowd but they were busy among themselves reminiscing and remembering and doing that-which-people-do at a reunion. They were catching up.

How do you catch up with a person that you never knew in the first place? Why did I ever think that this would be any different than walking through the hallway of my high school? Why did I put myself in this position all over again? What was I thinking?!?

I was thinking that there was a reason that I felt so strongly that I attend this event. The moment would unveil itself to me in its own time. I just knew it. Or so I thought.

The evening progressed at its own pace. From cocktails ... to supper ... to dancing ... picture taking ...

I talked with a few people that I knew from my junior high years. They remembered my name. They knew who I was. I remembered how they made me feel when I was at my shiest and at my ugliest. Some said kind things. I told them that their kindness was never forgotten.

Then one of the 'popular girls' recognized me and quickly grabbed a chair to sit down and stay a while. We were never friends but we knew each other. My teenage-self sat in the sidelines and admired those who appeared to have it all, know how to have fun with life and make friends easily. This girl was very popular but she was also very nice. She was always very kind to me. I remembered this and I told her.

She gushed. Suddenly she was fifteen again too. I confessed my innermost teenage insecurities to her. I was ugly, unpopular and painfully shy. I told her how I saw her - pretty, confident and popular. She looked at me with astonishment and said, "Really?!?? I always felt fat ..."

Oh. My. Gosh. The prettiest, nicest, most popular girl had self esteem issues while I thought that she had it all?? 

We peeled back the layers of who we were and how we saw each other and the conversation progressed into our real life, current day fears. It turns out that they are very parallel. Even after all these years!

She never married. I married once (a very long time ago). She is six months into a brand new relationship. She looked like a teenager as she expressed her unexpected delight at finding this relationship when she least expected it in her life. She asked me if I was dating anyone right now. I said, "Oh, no!!" She asked why. I said that I think that I am just a little bit terrified of the mere idea of getting to know someone new. She confessed that she had exactly the same fears and we exchanged private confidences that I never speak aloud. 

It was the "Ah-ha" moment that I knew I was waiting for. The confession of all that lies beneath the surface between two people that (at a glance) would appear to be polar opposite. She exudes confidence and invites interaction from the opposite sex into her world. I feel unnoticeable and like I walk around real life with my walls up and invite no male to cross that line. Real or imagined. We wear the same fear entirely differently.

There is a lesson to be learned from this one short encounter. Never assume to know how another human being is feeling underneath all of the protective layers that they place in their lives. 

I believe that we have our own personal demons that we carry within us. Fear, insecurity, anxiety, hope, despair and self-confidence issues. Just as we all choose to dress ourselves with our own personal style and flair (or lack of it), that is just one coat of armor to penetrate before you know the real person that lies beneath.

If I didn't know this girl, I may sit back and make assumptions about who she was by the exterior that she portrays to the world. Did some part of me subconsciously feel some of those insecurities within this very popular, self-assured looking girl all along? I never made assumptions. Not then, nor 35 years later when this exact replica of her teenage self wove her way throughout the evening before we sat down and talked. 

She walked away and resumed her life as she knew it. But our conversation changed me. It reinforced what I knew all along. We are all so very much the same when we let down our guard and admit our innermost thoughts and fears. What is on the outside does not matter. It is what is on the inside that really counts. We are vulnerable when we reveal our true selves. 

I feel for the people who don't trust the world enough to open up and let others know who they are. Hidden truths are a force field that instil detachment and relationships that don't go beneath the surface. It must be one of the loneliest places in the world.

I walked out of the doors at the end of the evening with one lesson in my mind. A lesson my mom has tried to instil in us our whole lives. It was the mantra that I wanted to be going through my mind as I walked through those very same doors at the beginning of the evening. But I completely and totally forgot what I wanted to feel the moment those teenage insecurities swept in and overtook me. 

My wise mom once told me, "As good as you are and as bad as I am, I am as good as you are as bad as I am."

These are good words to live by. 

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