I am not the person I once was.
Recently I attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, John Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers had a profound impact on an untold number of lives but that’s a subject for another day. I graduated from high school 28 years ago and, not surprisingly, my classmates looked remarkably different than they did way back when. The physical changes in my classmates did not surprise me because, over time, I have watched the man in my mirror change as well. I’m thicker around the middle, my hair is thinning on top and I‘ve had a beard for well over a decade. The changes in my own appearance were obvious indications that my classmates were likewise not immortal.
As I moved around the room and engaged in conversation I was profoundly surprised by one thing, me. More accurately, I was surprised by how others in the room reacted to me. Years ago, we spent time together, a lot of it. Once upon a time, many of us knew each other very well. We met before school, often before the sun was up; we played music together between one and three hours every day and sometimes four or five. We often spent more time together than we spent with our parents. I tell you all this to say that when we met again after nearly three decades apart, in many ways we were able to simply pick up where we left off and enjoy each other’s company… and we did. I for one had a wonderful time remembering old times and renewing old friendships. Even better, with the advent of Facebook and email some of us will do a better job of staying in touch this time.
Still, as I mentioned, I was surprised by something. Long ago we were upperclassmen and underclassmen, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Now we’re pastors, business executives, truck drivers, teachers, doctors and other things. In many ways, we are now our parents. Many of us have kids in high school and college. Looking at how we’ve changed in that way is fascinating but still, that wasn’t the surprise. What surprised me were several of the people who I had once looked up to. Not the majorettes or the flag girls with whom I’d only ever had a passing acquaintance, but my friends, or more often, friends of friends, those friends who travelled in the same circles but really weren’t close thirty years ago. These folks played instruments with my inner circle of friends or played in the jazz band where I worked on the tech crew. We knew each other fairly well, but not well enough to ever visit at home or be invited to birthday parties. Many of these folks were upperclassmen and graduated a year or two before I did. These were the people that I looked up to, who were older, smarter, better looking and more talented than I was, or at least it seemed that way. As I went about the room I was surprised because several of these friends not only remembered me, but they sought me out. They found value in who I was and what I did. Several people indicated that they’d hoped that I would come and they had looked forward to seeing me. Frankly, I was surprised that some of them even noticed me.
As many of us were, I was an awkward teenager. I didn’t get my growth spurt until I was a senior in high school and there were times that I didn’t like myself a whole lot. Somewhere along the line, about the time I was in high school, I had decided that if I didn’t like who I was, it was my job to become who I wanted to be. I wanted to be bigger and so for several years during college I went to the gym. I thought SCUBA diving looked cool (at least when Jacques Cousteau did it) and so I took classes and got certified. I’m not saying that working out in the gym and taking SCUBA lessons made me cool (because my children will tell you that I’m still not) but somewhere in the process I became comfortable with who I am. I am a different person than I was in high school. I’m taller and have a beard, but I also walk taller and straighter from ten years in the Army Reserve, I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in divinity and, simply put, I am both confident and comfortable with who I have become.
I was surprised that the people I’d known so many years ago reacted differently to our meeting than I expected. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I am not the person I once was.