Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Perils and Pleasures of High School Reunions November 25, 2011

Our high school reunion last month began with a school tour. We pulled into the same parking lot I used mmffffeennttey (excuse me, my hand slipped) years ago when, as a senior, I finally got to drive my mother’s ffflllimmerrrtty-fraammph (Oops! There it goes again!) Chevy to school. I was unprepared for the rush of memories: of friends who rode with me, a boy who occasionally thumbed a ride home, the Home-Ec room where I learned to make the dresses, blouses and skirts I wore to school from then on…. Okay, that dates me! Girls didn’t wear pants to school in those days.

We walked past a new building that occupies part of the once-expansive front lawn and there was the elegant old red-brick facade with its gracefully arched doors and mullioned windows, some of which were stained glass. I marveled that as a teen-ager I had never appreciated its beauty.

Then we noticed the group standing around the flagpole. Who were all those old people? Were they really our classmates? At first our greetings were awkward because everyone was pretending we weren’t trying to read each others’ name tags, but eventually we gave up and just introduced ourselves. Once we got over the initial shock, familiar features began to emerge from the masses of wrinkles and gray hair. This was both reassuring and bemusing. Okay, it was great they were still alive and all, but really? Did we look this old to them? At 10:00 a.m. sharp a young man approached our group. I assumed he was a senior assigned to be our guide. I saw more than one incredulous look when he introduced himself as the principal! You get the idea. High school reunions are not for the faint of heart. But we all survived to enjoy the tour.

One highlight was stepping into the auditorium and being assailed with a wave of deja vu. There in front of me was a recurring image from my dreams! The same thing happened in the corridor outside the cafeteria. I hadn’t remembered what either place looked like, yet they inspired all the auditoriums and cafeterias that have shown up in my dreams since high school. How many of our issues originate in adolescent experiences we’ve completely forgotten? Quite a few, I suspect.

We had a great time. It was especially fun reconnecting with my old girlfriends. Since Linda’s husband went to school in Mississippi he didn’t come, so Sylvia and Rita decided not to bring theirs either. Sylvia said that at the previous night’s football game her husband (who was in a different class) acted like the reunion was all about him so she wouldn’t let him attend the rest of it. Rita said her husband (also in a different class) “tends to talk a lot” and she didn’t want him stealing her thunder so she told him he couldn’t come either! I love it. We’ve come a long way from the days when bolstering the male ego was part of every teen-aged girl’s job description.

The weather was predicted to be cold that weekend so in the midst of packing Fred came out of the closet with his old football letter jacket! Delighted to find he could still snap the waistband, he wore it to the outdoor buffet the first night. In my eyes he was the hit of the party. He says I was. I think that’s sweet. I’ve decided old love is better than young love. How lucky are we to still be together after all these years? Forget it. I’m not telling you how many!

If you want to feel better about your age, I highly recommend turning off the TV shows in which everyone looks 18 and going to your high school reunion. Blessedly, no one there will be younger than you! (Unless the principal leads the tour.) By the way, now that I’ve reconnected with all these lovely people with whom I share so many warm memories, I’ve decided we’ve aged every bit as well as our beloved old school.

 

Notes From An Outsider October 21, 2011

Lately the prospect of my high school reunion has stirred up some almost-forgotten memories. Like most girls I read the teen magazines and advice columns. A big issue then was popularity and all the articles said the same thing: “Be yourself.” That always frustrated me.  I had no idea what it meant, no clue who I was.

Many of the most popular kids came from wealthy, socially prominent families. It seemed getting a new Corvette for your sixteenth birthday was a sure ticket. But since my family was barely making it, this way was closed to me. Several were very attractive and stylishly dressed, but some weren’t, so this wasn’t the whole story either. The one thing the “in” kids did have in common was social confidence. Most used this gift in positive ways, but a few couldn’t resist going for the “one up” feeling that undermining a peer’s confidence gave them.

I was morally idealistic and intellectually confident, but socially naive and insecure. I had the additional liability of having been traumatized by my parents’ divorce and my father’s death, and I was ill-equipped for dealing with anything other than the kindness and respect I had always received from my family. I found mean-spiritedness so confusing and appalling that I began to equate popularity with shallowness and callousness. Not wanting to be like that I stopped worrying about being popular and came to terms with living outside the inner circle. It was years before I understood that by honoring my values I was being myself. It was just that my self-doubt, self-consciousness and introverted tendencies made me difficult to approach.

Because of my inner-referential perspective, in college I joined the sorority that made me feel most welcome and comfortable. It was not one of the “best” ones. After marriage my husband and I didn’t join the church with the most status, but one whose uniqueness and diversity appealed to us. We bought a house in a fringe area instead of the “best” part of town. In those days we didn’t even know where that was! When friends were joining the Junior League I was getting my doctorate in Education. I didn’t think either direction was somehow better or worse; I was just following a powerful inner compass with little understanding why.

I taught college for ten years as an adjunct instructor, not a tenure-earning professor.  When I finally accepted the truth that I didn’t love my job and wanted to write about the psychological and theological matters I found so fascinating, I had no professional credentials in these fields and belonged to no esteemed scholarly organizations. While this limited my range of potential publishers, it had the advantage of sparing me the in-fighting, criticism, and intimidation that so often characterize groups like this. As Carl Jung repeatedly pointed out, group membership requires a certain amount of conformity and nothing stifles authenticity and creativity more.

Humans are social creatures. We need families and friends who love us, and I doubt there’s a person alive who doesn’t enjoy feeling popular and sought-after. It’s just that we need to know who we are, who likes us for who we are vs. who just wants something from us, and when being “in” is beneficial vs. when it’s not. I have a sensitive, vulnerable soul and it’s very apparent to me now that the cost of youthful popularity could well have been devastating. When it comes to discovering my voice and following my passion, being an outsider has undoubtedly been one of the “best” blessings of my life.

 

 
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