The Other Side of the Bridge, or “2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten”

My archive of previously published articles is not exhaustive, and for that reason, I hesitate to post them all too quickly, should a serious writing drought strike sometime in the future, as it inevitably will. But this essay is timely, and so I’m posting it now.

This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of my 20th high school reunion. (For those keeping track at home, that means I graduated from high school in 1984: The Orwellian Year.) It was a really enjoyable, if surreal, event, as I had not seen most of these people in the full two decades since we had tossed our mortar boards into the air and scattered to our colleges (or other destinations) of choice. I was especially excited to be reunited with D. and J., two women I had completely lost track of and to whom I was close at different points in our brief high school career.

I was amazed by the number of people who greeted me and whom I barely remembered, considering our graduating class number didn’t even reach 200. I was particularly startled to step into a room full of almost-middle-aged men and women who bore little resemblance to the kids with whom I’d gone to school. Where were the upturned Izod shirt collars and Tretorn sneakers, once so prevalent in our preppy little corner of the world? Feathered-back hairstyles had been replaced by sleeker and more mature coifs…or, in the case of several of the men, gone altogether, compensated by varied styles of facial hair.

Many of these people are now spouses and parents, with respectable careers and full lives which greatly exceed the limiting identities we adopted and assigned to one another two decades previous. The event was way too short to get a full glimpse into their lives, and many questions were left unanswered. And I don’t really have any idea what, if anything, my classmates thought about the 20-years-older me. I only know that I was glad to have the opportunity to participate in this time capsule of a weekend.

Below is the essay I wrote a little over a year ago, in anticipation of attending my 20th high school reunion. Enjoy!
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“To Amy, you’re a wonderful girl. We had great times in Health. You will never find the answer to my prom question. Eric ’83”

“Amy, to a girl I met in 1st period. For all the help you have given me in Spanish. Steve”

“Amy, Remember our senior year and all the fun. It’s been great knowing you and I know you’ll achieve everything in life. Take care and see ya this summer. RMA Linda (We’re out of here!!)”

I never will know the answer to Eric’s prom question. In fact, I’m unlikely to ever remember the question, since I have no clear recollection of Eric himself.

I’m glad I was able to help Steve with Spanish. De nada, Steve. (Steve who?)

I am relieved to be able to say that I do remember Linda. But I’m fairly certain that I never saw her the summer after we graduated, let alone in the two decades that have passed since June 6, 1984, when we marched forward to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” to claim our high school diplomas. (They did give me mine, in spite of the principal initially skipping over my name during the graduation ceremony. Apparently, he couldn’t see me for the flag obstructing his vision, and so he announced it — and probably mispronounced it — only as I was returning to my seat, correct diploma in hand. I could easily have been voted “Least Likely to Want the Spotlight,” and I was the only person in my high school graduating class of 176 people to receive an ovation that evening.) As for whether or not I’ve achieved “everything in life” — whatever that means, exactly — well, that remains to be seen.

As you have probably figured out by now, I’ve been perusing my high school yearbook lately. I will attend my 20th high school reunion on October 2nd. This is the second reunion for the class of ’84, and I missed the 10-year gathering. I wasn’t sure that I was going to participate in this one either, but in recent months, as I’ve reconnected with a few of my long-lost classmates, the curiosity factor alone makes it an appealing event.

In the survey posted on the website through which most of us have RSVPed, members of our Class of 1984 are asked to “describe what you have been doing since high school.” There is space provided to list the name of your spouse or partner, names and ages of your children, any songs you’d like the DJ to play at the reunion party, and whether you think we should have a 30-year reunion. There is also an opportunity to express “warm wishes to someone in our class.” The most interesting question by far to me is the first one.

Twenty years is a long time, and if my former classmates are like me, questions about whether there will be a pop quiz in history class or if tomorrow will be a snow day — or at least, please, a two-hour delay — have long since been replaced with weightier concerns. (No pun intended.) When a high school friend and I reconnected via email a few months ago, she wrote, “I just realized that I’ve lived more years since I knew you than I was years old when I knew you. Frightening thought!”

Over the last two decades, at least three of the girls I remember from the early ’80s — Wendy, Libby and Karen — have reportedly passed away. Two, and possibly all three, died from cancer. According to the survey, many of the class of 1984 are married with kids, but I’m not sure of the percentages on that one. It’s been an interesting guessing game to figure out from email IDs who people are, especially when the women forget to identify themselves by their maiden names.

Considering how I often feel as though my life really began in September 1984 with the advent of my freshman year of college, I’m intrigued to find out what ever happened to the people I knew in my “previous life.” Who have these people become? What is important to them? How do they measure success in their lives? How do I answer those questions for myself?

In my work with the CCO, I often emphasize the need for ministry to college students by talking about what social psychologist Sharon Parks once identified as “the critical years.” The ages between 18 and 25 have been identified as the bridge between adolescence and adulthood, a period during which we begin to make decisions which will affect the kinds of people we ultimately become and how we will live the rest of our lives. Because I didn’t really start to take my Christian faith seriously until I was a college student, at which point I began considering how what I believed about God needed to influence all of my life, this emphasis on the critical years resonates with me in a very personal way.

When I recently told a friend that I was planning to attend my high school reunion, she shuddered and told me, “You are the most secure person I know.”

Me?

Clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks back on high school and conjures feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and uncertainty. In fact, when I think too much about the upcoming reunion, my palms start to sweat just a little. Junior high was the more painful time for me; in high school, I just felt sort of invisible. Not one of the popular kids, but not really unpopular either. Just…there.

Within the first few weeks of my freshman year of college, I remember showing my high school yearbook to Chris, my first “almost-boyfriend” in college. He noticed how many pictures of me were in there, and he commented, “Wow, you must have been really popular.” This seemed to impress him, and while I tried to correct his misinterpretation (“No, I was just good friends with one of the yearbook photographers”), I could tell that he didn’t believe me. I stopped trying to convince him otherwise.

My closest friends today, with one or two exceptions, are people I met after September of 1984. They are people who love me for who I am, not for any image I tried — successfully or not — to project. They met me during the most open and adventuresome, honest and impressionable years of my life. I met many of them when we were, together, crossing that bridge from adolescence into adulthood.

As I read through the autographs in my high school yearbook, I look forward to catching up with people I actually do remember, even if most of the inside jokes referenced in their scrawled messages are now a complete mystery to me. I hope that, during our brief reunion time, we’re able to catch at least a glimpse of who we have become and what transformations took place on the bridge.

And I pray that the true Source of my security will shine through from me to them.

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