It’s been over 35 years now since I graduated from high school. For the first time, I’m going to the class reunion. Why am I going now? Why haven’t I come before?
I didn’t go for years because I believed there were certain expectations on my life and until I fulfilled them, I would be too ashamed to go back. I’m not sure what these expectations were, but they were more likely self-imposed and largely unattainable. Nothing so easily calculable as monetary success, world travel, beautiful family. I measured my worth by affecting a life-changing difference. Saving the world one hurting soul at a time.
It took me 32 years and one “nervous breakdown” before I let this dream die. But, by God’s grace, I didn’t die with it. My life story doesn’t end there. But I wasn’t ready to reconcile who I was in high school with who I had become a decade, two decades, later. I was no longer any favored “most-likely-to-be…” I now saw myself as “most-likely-to-have-a-mental-illness.” Not something to brag about at a reunion banquet.
So why am I going this year? Many reasons, I suspect. I’ll try to tease out three.
1) I am now at peace with my mental illness. It does not define me yet it is a major feature of who I am as a person. I try not to use it as an excuse, but more an explanation, sort of a living illustration of the best and sometimes the worst people can expect from persons like me who have a serious mental illness.
2) I genuinely want to better know my former classmates. Back then, I was so driven to impress, I didn’t take time to hear the stories of people who were mad, sad, glad, and afraid. I just assumed they would keep it to themselves and not want me to listen. After over twenty years in ministry, I’ve come to realize I can’t save a soul, but I can listen to a person and together we can find the Way.
3) Coming back to the reunion is one way to integrate the self I have tried to compartmentalize for so many years. I can lay aside the shame I have carried for not “making it,” as others have. The more time I spend with former classmates, the more I feel appreciated both for who I was then and for who I am now. Which makes sense, since we are one in the same.
So, I’m going to our 35th reunion. What do I expect? I’m trying not to over-think it, which is hard for me. Usually I think of the social chaos and how it will push me into hiding. Or, kick into gear the stress to impress which is still there and could prompt me to do something foolish.
Or, strange to say, it could be just one day among many in my life, full of the highs and lows, laughter and tears, joys and regrets. Maybe I’ll even come back next year.