School Daze

Most of us remember our school days. Once you get to be my age some of those memories can become a little fuzzy but often times we remember the feelings we had even more than the actual events. High school for most of us was a social event. Many looked forward to seeing their friends at school. Kids passed notes to one another, gossiped about other kids, made fun of each other. Some kids wanted to be popular. Most just wanted to be accepted. They explored their sexuality. They wondered and worried if the boy or girl they “liked” liked them back. Or they were too worried, embarrassed, or unsure of their sexual feelings and kept them to themselves. It was a grand social experiment and most kids were happy to dive right in. Unless you were like me and hated the whole thing. I never wanted to be in school and spent my time devising ways not to be there.

When I think back about those times I often wonder what it would have been like to be part of the crowd. To be liked, and popular. To date and have a bunch of friends. I can’t imagine it because I never felt that way. I went on dates a couple times and when other kids talked about it, I hated it. I was a private kid, never letting anyone get too close. Not because I was worried about it, but because I didn’t want to let anyone into my private world. It was mine. I had great parents and a normal upbringing. I wasn’t socially awkward. I just valued my privacy and in high school, you had no privacy. Everyone knew your business and talked about it. So I kept close. I didn’t date or hang out with school friends after school. I did my own thing and dreamed of a time when I would be free of school. That’s just the way I was.

So when I heard that some of my high school classmates were planning our 45th class reunion, the idea piqued my interest. I am aware of course that over the years, people change. We are not who we were in high school. And yet the high school experience is so unique, so pervasive, it’s like a bubble in your memory. It’s like remembering a time when you were someone else. And now, you’re you. I argued with myself. I thought, I’m not that person anymore and then I remembered, they aren’t the people they were either. We’re all different know. And I started wondering what became of the people I went to high school with. I had joined a “Class of ’74” Facebook page and had read a few things posted there so I knew what some of my former classmates were up to. When I read a post that said there was going to be a meeting of the reunion committee and it was open to everyone, I was curious, so I went. And I volunteered to be on the committee.

At the time I joined, it had been about a year and a half since my wife died and I was just starting to come out of my shell. So getting to know some of my former classmates and participating in real life seemed like a good idea. And it was. The whole thing was a fun experience. It was very comfortable getting to know my classmates on the committee again. We had a lot of things to do to prepare for the reunion, and the reunion itself was fun. It was just a whole roomful of people who used to know each other, getting in touch again.

Life is a funny, strange and weird thing. In the smallish town where I grew up I’d known many of my high school classmates most of my life. We attended grade school together. And yet after graduation we all took off in many different directions to make new lives of our own. Coming back together for a reunion was an enjoyable time. Those that I talked to reminisced about school days or talked about their grand kids. We remembered cars we used to have and things we used to do. No tension, no gossip, no notes passed under the table. We never imagined being in our sixties when we were in school and now, we’re talking about planning our 50th reunion. Most of us have no idea what we’re in for when we’re young and life is kind of like bumbling around in the dark with a candle that keeps going out. You light it and find your way for awhile and then the damn thing goes out again and you’re lost. Then you get it lit again and keep going. And sometimes, you have reunions.

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Division

With all the news lately about our president and the GOP trying to divide the country by race, it has got me thinking about division. The conclusion I have come to is that we are in fact, a divided country, by choice. We are. The problem being, we don’t think about that very much. We think about the problems of racism, bigotry, homelessness, religious fundamentalism, and all the other things plaguing the U.S. today and many of us find it appalling, but are we not contributing to it ourselves? Do we in fact separate ourselves on purpose? I’m going to say we do, most of time unconsciously.

I am white. My ancestors were North and West European. French, German, Irish, Scottish, and a few others thrown in. Here’s how I have separated myself from others, not like me. Most of my friends are white. Most of my friends are straight, like me. Most of my personal friends are men, like me. None of my friends are homeless, or fundamentally religious, like me. Most of my friends are not big drinkers or partiers, like me. Most of my friends are liberals, like me. None of my friends are wealthy. The people that are my personal friends are mostly, like me. And most of my personal friends are also like me in these same ways. And their friends, and their friends are also mostly like them. We are a divided nation.

I have a few friends who are gay. I’ve had two or three friends who were black. I’ve never had a Native American friend. I’ve only casually known any Hispanic or Asian people. I don’t have any friends who are conservative politically. The fact is we gravitate to what is familiar, to what is comfortable. Because we like being comfortable. How many white people go to gatherings or party’s where most of the people are black? How many white people live in mostly black neighborhoods? How many of our friends are not born here? Most Muslim’s friends are Muslim. Most Christian’s friends are Christian. I could go on but I think you’ve got the picture.

We like being comfortable. We like the familiar. Not that we’re opposed to having friends who are different than us, we just don’t. We unconsciously separate ourselves into groups that are like ourselves. And I’m not picking on white people here. We all do it. The point I’m trying to make here is this: Do we in fact, contribute to the bigotry in our world by doing that? I don’t think I’m a bigot. I don’t hate or dislike people who are different than me, But I also don’t go out of my way to include a lot of people who are different than me. And I think a lot of people will find that they are like that too. So again, are we contributing to the bigotry that we see by being the way we are? Why don’t I have a lot of friends who are homeless? Why aren’t a bunch of my buddies heroin addicts? Why don’t I have a bunch of black friends? Why don’t I hang out with Muslims?

So when our president tries to separate us by race or religion or what ever else he tries, are we not already there? When he says that most of the immigrants coming through our Southern boarder are rapists and criminals, how many of them are close personal friends of mine so that I know he’s not telling the truth? This is why a lot of people fall for Trump’s rhetoric. Because they are separated from groups of people who are not like them enough that they don’t know that he’s full of shit. They don’t know that he’s using their ignorance of other people against them for political control. It wouldn’t take much to tip some people over the line from not thinking much about it to outright fear of others. A lot of people are already there.

I guess a solution would be to integrate our lives with the lives of people who are not like us. Get to know them better. The more you know, the less fear you have and fear is a great motivator. One thing our president is good at is manipulation. He knows exactly what you’re afraid of and how to use it against you. I don’t really know what kind of solutions will work best in trying to make a better world for us all but at least this gives you something to think about. If we can be honest with ourselves when we look at our lives deeper, we can find solutions.