I hated high school. I spent much of my adult life trying to forget about and move beyond that experience. Whenever someone would say, “Oh, those were the best years of my life,” I’d look at them as if they had a screw loose, or several.
Growing up in a small farming town in east central Illinois, I had a pretty good childhood with a small group of classmates over the years. I am very thankful for that. The small town atmosphere was great, and I have really fond memories of elementary school. But starting in junior high, I began to be increasingly miserable and isolated, ’round about the time when hormones started raging and puberty made idiots of many. I was bullied some, but not severely. I was made fun of at times. People who’d been close friends in elementary school became strangers to me. I was severely out of step with just about everyone and everything else. High school just continued where junior high left off.
At the same time, and not coincidentally, things in my home life went from bad to worse. We had severe financial struggles but worse than that, we had gigantic relationship struggles that seemed to tear our family apart. On the surface, looking from the outside in, we largely maintained a strong, very conservative, upstanding Christian façade. But inside, it was rotten. Things were (and to some degree, still are) a mess in my family.
I was only too happy to graduate high school and disappear into the blessed anonymity of college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I didn’t maintain, nor did others with whom I’d grown up maintain, any sort of friendship attempt. I had absolutely zero interest in thinking about or revisiting high school days and certainly had no desire to join in class reunions over the years. I never saw any of my classmates again if I could help it, except for one or two, and very rarely. What is somewhat odd about this is that a large proportion of them live close by where I now live, in the Chicagoland metro area.
Then, along came Facebook. With some reticence, I reached out to some of the people with whom I’d grown up, or they reached out to me. Yes, we became that odd thing, Facebook friends.
Over time, my antipathy toward my past began to change as I became reacquainted with these people who were now complete strangers. I have seen a steady stream of amazing compassion, love, life experience, faith, accomplishments, warmth, and character in every single person with whom I grew up. Some of them are already grandparents (!). Some of them have traveled all over the world. Some have accomplished truly great things. Most have gone through great heartache and trouble. They live all over the U.S.
I look back and remember how much I disliked some of these people, how much I set myself apart from them. This wasn’t arrogance only; it was a protective shell attempting to cover my own insecurity. But still, I am ashamed. Ashamed for how I acted and behaved back then, and ashamed for the many long years of disconnect.
Like family, we don’t really have a choice about those with whom we grow up; those with whom we go to school for twelve long years. We are all quite different people, but there is an undeniable commonality we share having grown up together. I am pleased, proud, and enriched by reconnecting with these people, even if it’s just through the dark glass of Facebook.
I may even buck up enough courage to join a class reunion some day.