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Letting Go of the Past

Updated on September 7, 2010

Sharing of Perceptions

A few years ago, I started an online dialogue with a few of my fellow classmates, graduates of the class of 1969, who were email savvy. The subject was our perceptions of ourselves and our lives during high school. Those who responded were surprisingly candid about adolescent feelings of being unworthy, unaccepted or outcast. Some confessed to being clueless to the socio-economic status of others or how that set people apart. Others confessed to being oblivious to schisms caused by color since all of us were Black, but, like any other group with African American roots, varied in complexion based on the deepness of pigmentation. Some spoke of preferential treatment by teachers based on the popularity and academic performance of family members who came before them.Others just felt like outsiders, unaccepted for some intangible reason that only adolescence generates. All but my own responses surprised me.

At our recent high school reunion those who had participated in the online dialogue spoke of its importance to a new found understanding of the people we saw ourselves as back then. They wanted to open the dialogue to others who have come into our circle since that time. Perhaps this will be that forum.

Negative Perceptions During High School

Because most of us had attended the same school since first grade, during our elementary and junior high years we melded as one with no thought to economic class, color, or popularity. However, once we hit high school and we started to see our value in relation to others, perceptions of why one was popular and the other wasn’t started to form. Unfortunately, many of those perceptions were negative.

Personally, during high school, I was as angst-driven as my friends. I was so introspective that I thought no one would be able to understand me if I let them hear about my musings. So, I didn’t; I just fumbled around in my angst and floated on. I lived on the periphery of several social circles: In addition to my three best friends, I could interact with the “popular kids”—the athletes and cheerleaders, the athletic groupies, the band groupies, others who were academically successful, those who looked to be confident and comfortable in their skins. So in my mind, any one could be a part of any group. As a matter of fact, that was what I loved about my class. I thought, though some kids were more popular than others, that popularity did not go to their heads or give them free reign to reject the friendship of any other classmate. But that was my perception, not everyone’s.

Perception is Reality

If I did not believe the adage, “Perception is reality,” before I started that online dialogue, I certainly believed it afterward. Some of those who shared saw their place among the groups and cliques as static, accepting that they would never move beyond their assigned places, while others believed movement was fluid and they were capable of changing their circumstances. Those in the first category graduated and moved in circles that did not include many of their former classmates. The latter group kept connections and made new ones among the class as adults. We’ve done well, embracing a generally positive and optimistic outlook in our lives and in our chosen occupations. That doesn’t mean we all went to college and became highly paid professionals. It means that we tapped into that spirit within us that whispered that we were capable and worthy and could move among groups of whatever make-up, finding a stable footing. It means we worked through those adolescent demons that had us questioning where we fit and found gifts and talents that made room for us and helped us fit in places we never even imagined. It means we were able to see ourselves differently, and then extended that same grace to our classmates which allowed us to let go of those adolescent perceptions and reconnect on a level of mutual respect and love.


The Advantage of Letting Go

That’s what I admire about many of my classmates.  We have let go, and in doing so we have opened ourselves to the possibility that nothing that we believed about ourselves or about our classmates was true… at least not true to the core of who we were or are.   Our having let go of the negative emotions that accompanied our memories enables us to meet each other with complete joy, glad to see a face that connects us to something bigger than our individual selves-- a tradition of struggle and overcoming-- glad for the chance to forgive and be forgiven, glad for the chance to rekindle the flames of youth that still burn within us.


Can Perceptions Be Changed?

My classmates who have remained connected love each other. We are sometimes called upon to prove that love by helping one of us who is struggling either health-wise or financially. We gather round and do what we can to show each other that no one from our class has to struggle alone. We want to expand our circle and draw others back to us, but perceptions of the past keep that from happening. I suppose responsibility to reconnect lies with those who want that to happen, but how can we reach out to those who don’t have that same desire? What could we say that would help someone who is holding old grudges hear in our voices the tacit promise that little that we did during adolescence was done in malice, only in youthful ignorance of the consequences of any teasing, any rolled eyes, any callous words or any unnamed behaviors that injured their egos or dwarfed their emotional development. How can we convince them to let go of the stories they’ve told themselves for 40 plus years and let us be a flame of love in their lives?  Or should we even try?


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    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Its so nice that you are in touch with your friends that you graduated with decades ago. I love that. Perceptions are powerful and can affect us either way. I'm glad you all got to let go of those negative emotions.

      A thought provoking read - I enjoyed it.

      Regards, E.

    • profile image

      B. Joyner 7 years ago

      I pray my classmates didn't feel left out or alone. I do wish we had the closeness that I feel the class of '69 has. I enjoyed the article.

    • profile image

      Donna 7 years ago

      How interesting - kids who have endured a struggle, for whatever reason, seem to remain close throughout life. I am not really close to any of my high school classmates. So sad. ..

    • profile image

      jdove-miller 7 years ago

      Thanks for all the posts so far. Your comments speak to the importance of revisiting our pasts from time to time to see if our perceptions have been holding us back or speeding us forward.

    • profile image

      Ahmad 7 years ago

      My high school days in New York City were filled with wonderful experiences and memories. I was on the track team and had a vibrant social life. In retrospect I now know I was also sheltered. I had no idea why in August of 1963 there was a "March on Washington." My parents never spoke of race even though both of them were born and reared in the segregated South. Nor did I hear a word about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the killing of four defenseless girls. My perception at that time focused on me, myself, and I. My first encounter with Jim Crow was an epiphany and set me on a trajectory that continues to impact my life to this very day and entails my giving to the world community in many ways.

      Often times it will take something dramatic or traumatic to shake us up in such a way where we are forced to revisit our perceptions. One should be considered fortunate when and if this happens; it is how our perceptions are broadend.

      To your journey!

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      Marielle 7 years ago

      I was one of those kids on the outside. In elementary, I was skinny, wore thick glasses and shy. My teachers were my world. I had one friend who had many others. And then integration swallowed what was my high school and we found ourselves thrown into a world that told us our achievements prior to this new world were of no value. While others from the old school that was our home for so many years formed cliques that strengthened them, I again was protected by and found retreat in my teachers. Because I had not cultivated the friendships you describe, I find myself unable to relate to the bond your classmates feel for each other. And I'd like to say it feels like I'm missing something, but I can't. I can say that I know what it is like to have people who demonstrate the love and support you described. In that regard, I can walk in your shoes.

    • profile image

      Laura Goddard 7 years ago

      Jackie, I have often admired your writings this was no exceptions. When I went to school It was all white and then when I attended High School There was the changes of color among the white people. Not only was there now Black people but Japannies, Chinnies, Hispantic, etc. Sorry about the spelling. I never have judge a person by the color of ones skin but by the quility of ones actions. A person has no control of the color of their skin or who you are born to, but how they treat people, Wether you are rich as a king or poor as a pauper everyone is = in Gods eveys It our personal choice that make the diffrence, our predijuces, our attitudes, our choices. I plan to follow Gods choice and plan. There is a scripture that say Judge not what judgement you judge you will also be judge. ( and then there was this passage What right do you have to judge When you judge you put yourself in the place of God And what right do we have to put our self in the place of God.

      Laura Goddard

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      Carol 7 years ago

      You speak to universal truths here, Jackie, -- and wisdom.

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      Evelyn Harris 7 years ago

      Jackie, you are the only person I know from your graduating class of 1969, but what you wrote about could be anyone's high school. It is making me think about my classmates who I rarely see or hear from. There are a few that I stay in touch with, but I have never been to a class reunion. I guess I have to search and see the meaning behind that. Very good article.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      I think you and your classmates have a special gift, a blessing.

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      Peggy Land 7 years ago

      A few hours after I got back home I reread the dialogues and some comments I'd forgotten about or just didn't remember. I am so glad that I kept them. I don't think I would change much of my teenage years if that were possible. They were so carefree. However my adult life like other classmates has had its share of ups and downs and I am now at a point in my life I can truly say I've done some of all that I wanted and can now chill. To those of SHS class of 69 I'd like to say let the past be the past move forward. You are missing so much for not being a part of the 2010 version of the 69 clique. We can whnever there is the opportunity to encounter talk or whatever encourage them to be a part of unique middle age folks or not.