Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘high school’

Sunday musings 6/3/18: 40th Reunion Thoughts

2018 is the year of my 40th high school reunions (we moved after my freshman year so I have two). It’s a nice time to return to one of my frequent themes, identity. Who are you when you are all alone, just you and the mirror? Who are you when you are in any particular group of people? Do you feel that there is more confluence between those versions of you than not? How much confluence do you think there is between who you think you are and who it is that those around you think you are? As this is my 40th year away from my classmates, have you evolved from who you thought you were and who your classmates thought you were over the years?

First a couple of disclaimers. One should not be all that too terribly concerned about the thoughts of others since this gives all too much power to individuals who may not have your best interests at heart. Sorry, but our world is altogether too filled with people who will opt to climb over your downtrodden psychological carcass if you allow them to do so. Also, there is no reason for you to ossify as an individual at any stage of your life. Indeed, if you haven’t evolved since high school you’re probably doing it wrong.

Over the years I admit that I have not made much of an effort to remain in contact with the vast majority of my classmates in either of my childhood towns. I could certainly lay the blame for that on my Dad who held that true friendships were rare and the effort to stay in touch with acquaintances too arduous for the ROI. The truth is more that I’ve always done the deepest dive possible into whatever ocean of opportunity I happened to be sailing on at any given moment; those oceans have always been rather distant from the shores of my youth. It was simply too hard and too time consuming to maintain a large number of close contacts behind as I was ever looking ahead. Looking back there is no way to know if this was the best strategy. Like my Dad, though, I have tried to be the best friend I could be to those who were with me at any given time.

Today Facebook has made it rather easy to re-forge ties, however delicate the fibers may be. These tiny, tenuous connections have me very curious about my childhood mates in both towns. Much to the surprise (and amusement) of my family I have found myself moving all kinds of the chess pieces of my life so that I might attend both reunions. Who will I meet when I do? With the exception of a very few people I still do chat with, so many years have passed that literally everyone I see will be someone I am pretty much meeting for the first time.

40 years is a lot of years of growth and change.

Who will my classmates be meeting when they see me for the first time in at least 30 years (I went to one school’s 10th)? Judging by a post on our Reunion FB page in which a classmate unearthed some commentary about our class from graduation day I will be largely unrecognizable. You see (and this gets back to who you think you are and who others see you as being) what I once thought of as self-assurance and confidence came across (to some people at least) as self-centeredness and arrogance. This is not really a revelation mind you, nor is the re-appearnace of this item from Graduation Day distressing. I’ve long held that I was an arrogant putz when I was a young man, although that may have been a part of whatever successes I may have accrued over the years; I pretty much always assumed I was gonna turn out OK.

What does bother me though, at least the me of the last 20 or so years, is the possibility (probability?) that my younger self may have run roughshod over people who didn’t deserve anything rough out of me at all. That does make me sad, frankly. You see, a large part of my own personal development, the ongoing changes to the person I try to see in the mirror (and project for any and all to see in me) is a foundation of kindness in all that I do and in all that I am. It’s hard–no, impossible– to be good at all times, and I’m not sure at all that you can be truly kind always and everywhere. But you can try, and it is in the trying that I have evolved over the years.

Who will my classmates remember as they think about our upcoming reunions? Will our memories of the children we were be so strong that we will be prevented from seeing the adults we have become? Regardless it’s been an interesting part of the journey to be reminded of who people thought I was so long ago and to peruse the pages of each intervening “Yearbook” as I’ve gone from cocky teenage jock to whatever it is I am today.

Wow. 40 years.

New Year’s Day and Forgiveness

New Year’s Day. Brand new year. In the general scheme of things, in reality that is, time marked by a calendar is one of the most artificial constructs yet created by man. Beth’s mare is blissfully unaware that it is January 1st; she knows only that she is 6 months away from her first foal.

Indeed, men and woman across the globe have not even settled on a single calendar, let alone a single New Year’s Day.

Yet this concept, the start of something new, is like many of our uniquely human constructs in that it allows us to consider a course of action that may actually be unique to us. On this first day of the new calendar year we can choose to take, or give, a Mulligan. A re-do or a re-boot. We can choose to purposely and purposefully walk away from a memory that should be better than it was. We can seek to un-do the effects of an ill-advised word or action by apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

More importantly we can reach out, make the first move, and offer forgiveness.

Memories are funny things, aren’t they? As I wrote last week or the week before, left to our own devices what we remember is mostly how we felt at any given time or place or happening. Beth took a really cool pic at lunch the other day with some of our kids utilizing her mad selfie skills (she’s not quite as on board with the “just remember, don’t click” thing as I am). Lunch made me giggle, made me proud, made me a little bit sad. What will I remember, with or without the epic panoramic selfie, next year or 5 or 10 or 20 years from now?

There’s a woman my age with whom I went to high school who is still very angry about how she remembers being treated as a young woman. I was in school with this group of classmates for only 3 years so my memories of my high school mates are more shallow than the kids I grew up with. Pretty OK high school memories to be truthful, but my young life was admittedly a smooth sail for the most part. I’ve oft said that I was a bit too pleased with myself as a youngster and a young man, but I’d like to think that a life’s course that has forged a very real sense of humility has sanded away some of the edges and armor that prevented me from seeing any part I may have played in her unhappiness. We only remember our own emotions, but time with all of our emotions tends to open us up to the realization that others may remember stuff, and us, differently.

And so we come to a New Year’s Day, an artificial starting line created by a creature set apart by our ability to choose. Why not take advantage of this day, however artificial it might be, and choose to let go of as much unhappiness as you can? Choose to forgive those who may have contributed to that unhappiness, especially if they have grown to be someone for whom the very thought of causing pain in another brings on a deep, abiding sorrow. Start anew. Fresh. Why not?

Remember, as arbitrary and contrived as it may be, January 1st always starts with “Happy” and New”.

I’ll see you next year…

On Football

Randy texted me about the exciting finish to the ND/Stanford NCAA football game. It made me smile. Not the result, not even the topic, but the excitement. A parent is only as happy as his least happy kid, and at that moment one of my kids was very happy. Randy’s football playing days are long behind him, but the game still brings him joy.

Me? Not so much.

Oh sure, there was a time when football never seemed to be any lower on my list of wonderful things than 2 or 3. I was a medium-sized fish in a puddle as a high school football player, but I didn’t have the game out of my system when I graduated. Accepted at one Ivy League school and waitlisted at another, I turned down both because I was too small to have any chance of playing football at that level. Instead I went to a very old, very small school and played a bit all 4 years. Now done as a player I was nonetheless still enthralled by all other things football.

Many of my closest friends were met on the freshly cut football fields of my youth. Wins and losses followed on those fields, most of which I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I’ve written before that it is only the losses I remember, especially those that resulted from some personal failure in a game. A fumble, perhaps, or a blown coverage. And yet there is no escaping the fact that those countless hours at practice, in the locker room, and on the field are in large part responsible for who I am, the adult I’ve become.

It’s a powerful thing, football. Families rally around a favorite team. Lifetime friendships are renewed and strengthened through shared fanhood. Annual calendars are set only after the team’s home schedule is published. The game itself is exhilarating to both play and watch. At least, it was. I find myself finding all kinds of reasons not to watch football games now. Not consciously finding “big picture” reasons like domestic violence or performance-enhancing drugs so much as tiny reasons, like Beth wants me to tag along to the barn, or Abbie the world’s smartest (and most easily bored) dog would like an adventure kind of reasons. Football of all sorts played at any and all levels has sunken to a kind of triviality, easily trumped by a trip to the grocery store.

No one thing is responsible for this falling out of love, as it were. This fall is different from the last, and the one before only in that it is now glaringly obvious that football holds for me no essential attraction by itself. Looking back my only surprise is that it took me so long. Why didn’t I begin to turn away as my friend the ER doc buzzed through Dan’s shoulder pads with a saw in order to get him into the MRI? Or when I walked onto the field after Randy knocked himself out cold with a helmut-to helmut tackle to force a fourth down, his first concussion? I was still young, still sure that the game would bring my sons what I thought it had brought me.

I see them now, both of my boys, face down and immobile, and I shudder. I started to see them each time I saw a player go down in high school, or college, or the pros. I began to see that I valued those young men nearly as much as my own boys, and I started to notice that the game of football had become The Game. Those entrusted with The Game did not–do not–appear to share my feelings about the players.

The junior high coach carries the star running back to the bench, there to wrap the sprained ankle in the hope of returning him to the game. Junior High! In a high school freshman game, a rout, the first string defense is still on the field in the fourth quarter, the opportunity to play in a game slipping away for kids on the bench who may never get another chance, when the starting safety goes down with a severed spine on a play he should have been watching from the sideline. What was the first string learning at that point in that freshman game? Alumni and athletic directors and coaches at colleges noted for academic excellence openly opine that they cannot win without lowering the admission standards for football players, and just as openly run those kids off the team and out of their scholarships when they are no longer needed to win. The game in the NFL becomes more violent by the week, with ever more gratuitous violence magnifying the carnage wreaked upon the bodies of the players. Ex-pros roam the earth as a kind of walking dead.

When did football become The Game? When did the keepers of the game become keepers of The Game? When did football players as young as high school become little more than a modern stand-in for gladiators thrown into the arena for the amusement of the many and the benefit of a tiny protected few? I’d like to think that there was such a time, an inflection point when it did change, but I fear it has been ever thus. If that is so then I, too, bear some responsibility for what The Game has become. I did not turn away, or turn my own sons away, at the time of my own dawning awareness that The Game and its keepers cared naught for our sons at all, but only for themselves and their respective place and privilege. The ends (get a bigger coaching gig, fill the coffers of alma mater, protect the TV ratings) justify ever more distasteful means (alter transcripts, bury criminal behavior, obfuscate and evade when asking for public funds).

There was a time when my own playing days were long over when I still found myself on edge as the weather chilled and the smell of cut grass filled the autumn air. It was time to get ready to play football. Those days are in my distant past, and I find that I no longer even think about watching, indeed can no longer see myself watching, except as a vehicle with which I can channel the joy of a child who loves football. This may answer “why?”: I can no longer watch a game whose keepers have lost sight of the fact that someone’s child plays in The Game.

One wonders about the parents of gladiators past, when and why they stopped watching their version of The Game.