Last weekend I attended my high school reunion. It was my thirtieth, the class of 1989. Thirty years since I whimsically navigated the last year of required education and celebrated my high school graduation. An accomplishment that is, in retrospect, the easiest accomplishment of my life. To remember and reconnect, a small collection of us returned to the halls of Gosnell High School once again. Halls that still breath with the optimism of youth. An optimism that was muted by life experiences of those of us who tepidly, almost reverently, engaged our fading memories and nostalgic longings for a time quickly passed. There was laughter, lot of laughter, as we collectively remembered and misremembered events.
It was the consensus of those of us who gathered, that we absolutely, positively, attended high school at just the right time and at exactly the right place in all of human history. No doubt, a romanticized notion biased our conclusions, but we earned the right of hyperbole, after all we were there thirty years after the events we recollected transpired. It is a privilege we indulged. We had survived, and the victors write the histories, or in our case, reflect on them favorably. But some facts do not change, no matter how hard we may labor to put them into a positive perspective. I revisited the class where I failed algebra. Emotional traumas of major and minor proportions haunted the hallways, making their presence felt as they rattled chains of personal rejections and missed opportunities. But, as I was reminded by one of my classmates, it was these events that resulted in the persons that we eventually became.
The question was ever present in my mind, “If I could go back, what would I change?” While in agreement with my classmates, that lamenting poor decisions of the past was a futile endeavor, and that we should be thankful for the eventualities all of those collective decisions inspired, there is one regret that I continue to work on remedying. Which is this, If I could go back in time, I would focus more on cultivating relationships with others. There is a deception of youth that convinces us that we are alone sufficient at meeting all the challenges of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a variant of this philosophy that convinces us that we, along with our biological family, religious and tribal allegiances, are enough to experience a flourishing life. But in reality, primary relationships including secondary relationships based on affinity may sometimes actually truncate our ability to flourish in a diverse world.
So then, my advice to my younger self, and that I presently seek to implement in every aspect of my life is this; diversify your relationships. Have conversations with those who fundamentally disagree with you, engage in reading books that challenge your perspective on the big and little issues of life. Embrace the possibility that you were wrong, that you are wrong, about a lot of things. Grow. Change. Understand that no one is perfectly happy, and that happiness is elusive, and stretches along a spectrum and that at any given moment in your life you may find yourself at different places on that spectrum. That’s ok. Everyone is struggling in this pursuit, and pretending otherwise is self-deceit. You won’t know this liberating truth without a willingness to diversify your relationships and honestly engage with the world as it is, and not as you may romantically imagine it to be, or nostalgically wish for it to return. The only world that exist is the one we inhabit. Live accordingly.
Have you ever watched these talent programs on television? Many of the contestants are convinced that they can sing, dance, act, cook, but then woefully discover when put to the test by experts in their fields, that they are not. How do these contestants manage to make it this far in life without anyone ever telling them different? I believe it is because they lack a diversity of relationships. They have never come into contact with someone qualified to assess their talent, or worse yet, they have been deprived of relationships with people who love them enough to tell them the truth about themselves. These poor souls have forever been deceived into thinking they are better than what they are based upon a deficit of diversity. This is the fallacy of failing to invest in relationships that value honesty. Cultivate diversity in your life. You will be better for it.
Near the conclusion of our visit on Saturday, one of my classmates shared a memory about me. “Scot Loyd was the only person in high school who dressed like a grown man!” We erupted in laughter, recalling that on occasion, a suit and tie, was my fashion of choice. So weird right? In high school I was obnoxiously religious, often to the point of self righteousness. At the time I didn’t know better. I wore clothing, carried bibles, and engaged in other acts, designed to signal my moral superiority. I even produced a video in an effort to proselyte others entitled, “You need a Savior.” When in fact I was the one desperately in need of a Savior to deliver me from becoming a self-righteous jerk. Thankfully I was delivered, eventually. Although on occasion, I do relapse. I like to believe that life, and the suffering that accompany it, has a way of tempering our more dangerous proclivities for extremism.
All of us at Gosnell High School did indeed enjoy something special, a diversity that was valued and celebrated. For this I will forever be grateful, as I continue to discover the benefits of that education.