I've been getting email traffic lately from my high school class president. They are beginning to make preparations for our 20th High School reunion. Wait. How many years? I don't remember going to high school when I was five. Excuse me. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
I don't know if I'm going to go or not. I probably won't. After all, I still keep up with my really good friends, and morbid curiosity as to how some of those other guys turned out doesn't necessarily justify a trek to the mother land. [Editor's note: the exclusive language is on purpose. I attended an all boys high school.] I wonder what ever happened to the guy who randomly sprayed bleach in the hallway between classes. And our only flute player in band who got expelled for smoking.
To be honest, high school wasn't the best experience for me, with the notable exception of meeting Lisa in high school (but that actually happened at her school, not mine; she went to the all girls school a mile or two away). And I'll admit too that I got a first rate education there. A meat and potatoes education in the core areas complete with no air conditioning because air conditioning is for wimps. [Seriously, though. When they installed air conditioning a few years back they had to write an apology letter to the alumni to explain it wasn't for the comfort of the boys but rather for the well being of the technology in the classrooms! The alumni relations director says not to worry; they seldom turn it on.]
The emails from Clayton aren't the only reason I'm thinking about High School today. This morning (at 11:33am), I went to St. Pius X High School to have lunch with Bennett Brinson. It was a surreal experience.
First, I drove up to the school, and finding no visitor parking available stole a teacher parking spot. There were several open. Bennett tells me he thinks it was the band director's spot. That seems appropriate. I headed to the office through a crowd of students. They were all wearing uniforms, and I wondered why Bennett neglected to send me the memo about blue shirt, gray slacks, and a blue Pius tie. Next time. So I stood out a bit in my Hawaiian shirt and jeans is what I'm saying. Also I stood out because I'm old. I'm double or more all these kids' ages. Excuse me. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit more.
I went to the office, and when the bell rang they paged Bennett to come and get me. Good idea. I didn't know where the cafeteria was or how it worked. Even a confident 38 year old man doesn't want to get something like the lunch line wrong in high school...
Bennett and I headed to the cafeteria. He put his books down in the same place he always does, and we went through the line. He got the chicken tenders. I get the feeling he does that a lot. The food looked pretty good, though I played it safe and got chicken tenders as well. And a slice of pizza. Bennett said that was a little over the top, but his mom was still happy to cover it (by the way, thanks for lunch, Nan!). I did get water to drink. The free water, not the $.25/cup water.
We sat down with the same people Bennett always sits with, and we talked. He introduced me to his friends. It was nice to visit with him, which I don't often have time for around the margins of choir. We talked about college (both where he's applying and of course a few stories of my experience). We talked about choir and church. It wasn't all that long before they rang the bell, which indicates it is "time to go stand awkwardly outside for the last few minutes of the lunch period." (Bennett's words). So we walked out to the same place he always goes with the same friends he always stands with and visited a bit more until it was time for him to head to calculus class. Excuse me. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit more.
I'm not sure why it felt different from standing in front of youth choir (where I'm very comfortable), but it was strange to be in the middle of all those high school kids. None of them has encountered the freshman 15 yet (or like in my case the freshman 40). Most of them don't really know what they'll be doing in five years--even and perhaps especially the ones who think they do. Despite the reality that kids these days lose their innocence way too early (and certainly earlier than ever before), I still perceive an air of innocence there. If anyone had ever made a comment like that to me in high school I would of course have corrected them. But now, from this side, further from high school than they are from their birth, I realize the truth in it. There is much yet to happen to them.
The things that happen to them will not define them. Their reaction to those things will. They are in a constant state of becoming, as we all are--defined by the choices we made yesterday but given an opportunity to redefine ourselves by the choices we make today and tomorrow and the day after that. Every day, with every choice, we are given the opportunity to embrace our better selves or to settle for something less.
Which brings me back to Bennett. When I sat down with him today, one thing stood out to me. He was him. He was the same person in school that he is at church. He will grow and change. The world will view him through the lens of his choices, just like all of us. But Bennett is, at his core, who Bennett is. That inspired me today. We should all be so comfortable with who we are--with our gifts as well as our limitations--that we can live our lives without apology for either one.