Well, I got caught. Here I was, going along, feeling pretty good about my walk with God. Doing my thing, feeling close to Jesus, no major visible sins stalking me, etc. when suddenly God took me into a situation that caused all kinds of unexpected reactions to rise up in me.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend my 50th high school reunion. Good old William Penn Senior High School, the old “Cherry and Black” is located in New Castle, DE. I graduated in 1966, one of approximately 322.
It was good to see the approximately 70 people who showed up for the reunion, even though the physical deterioration that had occurred in all of us would have made identification very difficult were it not for the name tags that contained our class pictures. Time is definitely moving faster than we are.
When I was in high school I was the stereotypic nerd. (Not the incredibly hip, cool, casual, good looking, delusional guy that I am today). I was an introvert, slightly overweight, wearing dark glasses (don’t forget the pocket protector), and was always carrying books. I was told at this reunion that I always had a nice smile and was a very sweet boy – the kiss of death for a high schooler. My grades weren’t that hot, mainly because I liked to sit in class with my textbook open and raised, and a novel of my choosing nestled inside. In short, I was busy reading what I wanted to read, as opposed to paying attention as I should have. I got the hang of the academic stuff later.
I was lonely and isolated much of the time, with only a few friends, most of whom were like me, socially isolated introverts. Most of the people thought that I was in the Honor Society because I looked like the kind of kid that ought to be. I desperately wanted to fit in which, in those days, meant earning an athletic letter and a white sweater to wear it on. The school offered letters for things like chorus, but they were smaller than the “real” letters and it would have been more embarrassing to wear a reduced version of the letter than to not have one at all.
In order to get that letter I joined the football team. Now I was too small, too light, and too slow to be an athlete so I got to be the team manager. That meant that I cleaned up after the team, collected the dirty jerseys after practice and the games, carried water onto the field, and generally did whatever scut work that needed to be done. Desperate.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to work during halftime because I was also the drum major of the marching band; my attempt at turning myself from an introvert (who was definitely not having any fun), into an extrovert (those who appeared to be having more fun). The good news about being the drum major of the marching band was that it led to me becoming the drum major of the University of Delaware Marching Band, (“Go Blue Hens.”), which was an entirely different world (PTL). When I graduated from William Penn I was so ready to reinvent myself. When I got to college I did just that.
As I prepared for the reunion I was slowly becoming aware that I wasn’t acting like I normally act. Something was happening in me. I felt hyper and anxious. I went out and bought a new shirt and tie, asked my wife whether my outfit looked okay (as good as a guy my age and shape can look), and reviewed again and again my invocation (as a former pastor I had to do the prayer and read the names of the 41 classmates who had died).
In short, I was acting like this was a really important event, even though I knew that it wasn’t. What was driving me?
When I arrived at the reunion I experienced a flashback. I was back in high school with the jocks hanging with the jocks (though none of them looked jockish any more), the cheerleaders with the cheerleaders (though none of them looked anything close to being cheerleaderish any more), the honor society folk hanging with the honor society folk (who still looked nerdish – like me), and the nothings, who joined me in the back of the room. I remembered then how much I disliked high school.
Now, I have learned since high school that I am no dummy (I probably have twice as many academic degrees as anyone in the room). Professionally I have done well, being a graduate professor and therapist (I didn’t mention the deliverance part of my job to anyone). I have also been married to the same woman for 44 years, have four great adult children, and five (and counting), grandchildren (all of which I didn’t hesitate to mention in my blurb under “What have you been doing the last 50 years” in the Memory Book). Most of this isn’t my fault, I just sort of stumbled into blessing after blessing. God loves me and has given me a good life. But, when I walked into that room, all the insecurities of high school came rushing back. I didn’t feel 68 and mature. I still felt like I didn’t belong, the perpetual outsider.
After the reunion I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. processing the whole thing with my sister, at whose home I was staying. I was astonished to discover how much of my identity was still attached to the affirmation of others, even after all these years. It was important for me to have these people, who I only knew marginally fifty years ago, think well of me. I saw how foolish I was being. I felt stupid having listed all the reasons that I thought that, at the age of 68, I should be allowed to be part of the “in group;” fully accepted and affirmed by others. Dumb.
I realized that the only thing that should be important to me is the love and affirmation of my wife and family, and the ultimate “Well done!” that I hope to receive from our Lord someday. It was an eye opening experience and the Lord was faithful to reveal all this to me. Thanks God. Apparently I have some more work to do.