I'm back in the office with several hundred midterms to grade over the next ten days. My goal is to have them all returned by Thursday, November 3. This means that grading, appropriately, will have to take precedence over posting!
My wife and I spent Saturday and Sunday up in Carmel, where we attended various events connected with my twenty-year high school reunion. (And before I go any further, may I say my wife was absolutely heroic. Indeed, all spouses and partners who go to entire reunion weekends deserve special medals!)
Saturday afternoon, we went to the Homecoming football game (the "Padres" are a lot better this year than we were when I was a student, and posted a satisfying shutout.) Saturday night, about 50 members of the class of 1985 ( a good third of our small graduating class) gathered for snacks and drinks on Cannery Row; yesterday, we had a family picnic (complete with a rented bouncy castle) in Carmel Valley. I'll see if I can't put some photos up later this week.
It was a remarkable experience. I did not go to my ten-year reunion in 1995, so this was the first time I had seen many of my classmates in two full decades. Anyone who has gone to such a reunion will surely know the sense of shock at seeing vaguely familiar faces, now already lined with wrinkles and the signs of twenty well-lived years. A few were instantly recognizable, but in most cases, I had to use the name-tags we all wore. (Without name-tags, it would have been very difficult!) Very few people recognized me instantly either, so I didn't feel too bad about stumbling over people's names.
One of my friends, knowing I was going up to Carmel this past weekend, asked me about my real motives for attending the reunion. "Are you going to show off, Hugo?", he asked. This friend knows what I looked like in high school (a sample pic provided here). I may now be a solid ENFP, but when I took Myers-Briggs in high school, I was a clear INFJ. Some personality traits can be changed over time, I assure you. What that means, for folks who hate all of these letters, is that I was very much a shy, chubby, unathletic, geek. (That may not be true of all INFJs, but it was for me.) Now, by no means am I any less a "geek" today at 38 -- it's just that I've dealt with overcoming the "shy" and the "unathletic" ! So yes, there was a significant part of me that did want my classmates to see how much I have changed, both in terms of my body and my personality.
But I did not go to the reunion merely to seek validation. My real reason was a driving curiosity to see whether my classmates had made the same kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual changes that I have made in the last twenty years. I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying it was to see just how many of those with whom I went through school (some I saw this weekend I had known since second grade) had become interesting, kind, fun people. Because I was never a popular kid in high school, I had the customary resentments directed towards the cooler, more popular boys and girls. I'll admit that when I was a teenager, like many bookish and shy kids, I imagined myself to be a better (or at least a deeper) person than many of my classmates. Even then, I didn't like the way I responded to teasing with comforting thoughts of my own superiority.
Yesterday afternoon, as I talked with other '85ers and watched their many small children play, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. I chatted with real estate developers and airline pilots; stay-at-home moms and nurses; fellow teachers and ranchers. (Parenthetically, what many folks don't realize about Carmel is just how rural the school district is. Most folks only know the affluent beach area -- but Carmel's students are more likely to come from horse and cattle ranches in the Valley than they are from the multi-million dollar properties on the water. In terms of an ethos, we're more Ford F150s and boots than BMWs and loafers). And as I talked and listened, I was humbled by the sense of grace I felt wash over me. Kids whom I remembered as popular and aloof and ineffably cool were now doting, loving moms and dads, fumbling with sippy cups and wiping their children's drool off shirts and blouses. We talked less about what we were like in high school and more about our lives today. Since we are all the same age (38), we're all, more or less, struggling with similar issues. We talked about mortgages, infertility, day care and school districts; we talked about aging parents, our own battles with skin cancer, and about our looming fortieth birthdays. We talked about how busy our lives were.
The glory of this reunion, for me, was not that I got a chance to "show off" the new Hugo (and, of course, his beautiful new wife.) The glory was that I got to see my classmates, finally, as human beings. I had been so intimidated and so awed by so many of them when I was that shy, introverted teen. I had seen "jocks" and "preppies" and "cowboys" and "cheerleaders", but I hadn't seen human beings. I had felt abused and picked on, but I never realized how badly -- even cruelly -- I stereotyped my fellow students when I was in high school. This weekend, more than twenty years after I left high school, I was able to see these same people and rejoice in the kind, fun, interesting human beings that they had become. Heck, I realized that perhaps they had always been those things, and I, in the special narcissism of the high school loner, had just been too judgmental and myopic to see them for who they were.
I was humbled and touched by my experience this weekend. I don't know that I'll keep in touch with many of my classmates; I'll probably only speak to most of them again when we gather (grayer, older, wiser, gentler) in 2015 for our thirtieth. But whether I see them or not in the next ten years, I left the reunion weekend with warm and affectionate feelings for all of them. Perhaps it's just sentimentality that has me feeling this way, but I'd like to think it's grace - - the grace that has allowed me, after two decades, to put some old demons to bed and embrace unconditionally some truly wonderful folks whose essential goodness and complexity I have only now begun to see.
Be well, Carmel High class of 1985.