Who We Were Then, Who We Are Now

One of the things about growing up in a close-knit community is that I’ve remained in touch with many of my friends from high school (and earlier) over the years, and I see them periodically. At weddings, at the Fourth of July parade, around the community for those of us who live here, and, at least theoretically, at reunions. We don’t have the big fancy organised events some high schools seem to, but every now and then, someone gets motivated into throwing a partyish sort of thing and people who went to school in roughly the same decade show up there.

I was struggling with how to describe these events recently when a friend put it very well, talking about how often, it seems like people want to attend reunions to talk about high school, but he’d rather talk about what he’s doing now.

For some of us, time since high school has been stagnant. There’s that ugly saying about how some people hit their prime in high school and never really progress, and for at least some people, it seems to hold true; it’s a period of rose-tinted nostalgia, and people think of reunions as a chance to relive it. Meeting up with friends from high school for them turns into a tide of ‘remember whens’ and rehashing of old memories of old events and, really, old people.

It’s not that I had a particularly bad or traumatic high school experience, but more that I’m past wanting to relive it. It was what it was. It had a formative role in my life, and I’ll credit it for that, and I’m thankful for all the people I have in my life now because of it, but I don’t really want to remember who I was in high school. That was a long time ago, and that person is very different from the person I am today; I certainly don’t want to be judged by that person’s actions, or crammed into the box that person built, and both of those things tend to happen when people anchor themselves in the past and refuse to move forward.

I want to know who people have become, who they have grown into, what they are doing now. I have some rather amazing friends and many of them are doing really wonderful and awesome things in the world today, right now. They’re the ones I’m drawn to because they have grown and become independent adults in their own right, and they, too, are interested in talking about where they’ve gone since high school. We talk about their careers and I meet their partners and some of them are starting to have children, because we are reaching that age.

We all have this shared experience, this thing that happened in the past, but we chose to maintain connections over the years, to retain a relationship. And in part, that relationship has been retained not because of who we were, but because of who we have become: people who share interests and travel along mutual paths, who have grown together. There are many people I was very close to in high school whom I am of course friendly with when I see them, but I don’t think of them necessarily as ‘friends’ anymore, rather just people that I know; people who have grown into other people, in some cases, and people who are trapped in the past, in others.

Who we were then matters, of course, because all past and history matters. It is a part of us, and I will always carry previous versions of myself, and the lessons they learned, inside of me; to deny them would be to have to painfully relearn things that I already struggled with at great cost. But I’m not those people any more, and while they may whisper advice in my ear sometimes or tap a finger on the pages of a book to remind me of something, they’re not who I am today. They’re just a part of me.

I don’t want to reminisce over the things I did in high school; the cutesy, the dangerous, the unkind. High school wasn’t the time of my life, but rather a period of my life. The person I am now knows that, has discovered an entire world outside those walls, and is eager to share and explore that world with old and new friends. Why would I want to confine myself to serving up the past over and over again when I could be diving into the future, and talking about the present? Where, exactly, is the point in a reunion if all people do is try to turn back the clock?

There are all sorts of fascinating pop cultural and social traditions surrounding reunions and what people are supposed to do at them, why people attend them, how people behave there. For me, it is the smaller gatherings of true old friends rather than big groups of random people I once went to school with that I treasure, and when I’m among people with a shared history dating back over so many years, I want to talk not about who we were then, but who we are now.

And who we are going to become, what bold and bright futures lie ahead of us.