Letting Go of the Past
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?