Ask Emma

Advice on love and sanity for the 21st century

High School: Good Thing, Bad Thing

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It was my high school reunion last week. I won’t tell you how many years it has been. Just as is true of my last reunion, I didn’t go. I was tempted to. I wanted to call my two best friends and say: “Let’s just go.” But I know that it wouldn’t work out. One of them is a doctor in Toronto and rarely returns my calls, is too busy, and has become famous on Canadian television. My other best friend lives modestly, alone, works now and then but struggles with depression and daily life. We talk and get along fine, but it wouldn’t work at reunion. At one time you couldn’t have separated the three of us, but now I think we would resent one another, sit in silence, embarassed and annoyed, with the love that we will always have too buried in hurt to rise to the surface.

Well, what can you do. However, I followed the reunion on facebook and this morning when I woke up, I watched a video that had been put together by one of my old classmates. Assembled to the Beatles song “Help” it consisted of shots from the reunion of 5 years ago, and photographs from high school parties. There I am in at least two of the old photos, my hair straight. My eyes bright in the flashbulb pop of an old Polaroid, beer in hand. Where I grew up we partied in the woods and the woods were cold. We were always in the woods on a Friday night, a fire burning. One beer now and I want to go to sleep. In those days….

Well, anyway, it’s always sobering to look down the barrel of the passage of time. As I looked at the photos of my classmates from the reunion I wondered: “Do I look as old as that?” I recognized very few of them, shadows of old faces. One or two have not changed a bit but there were many who I simply could not place at all, and I have a good eye for faces. They look calm, broader, balder, more content honestly, than the swarming gang of young faces, drunk and flashing in a clearing between the spruce trees.

What made me sad was thinking back at those days and wondering about where the guidance was. It seems to me we were raised like wolves in those days. It’s not like that now. The teenagers I encounter in my practice have every moment of their day scripted — the choir, the yearbook, the poetry club, violin lessons, karate. I wonder what is better or worse. To be left alone to figure it out, or to have no space or opprotunity for wanderlust (and other kinds of lust).

Perhaps it shouldn’t or needn’t be an either/or situation. When I look at the faces of my classmates today, they look like they turned out okay. But one thing I do think is true is that most teenagers enter a period of profound searching and most of us end up with an equivalent of a beer in one hand and Sylvia Plath in the other. It’s just the way of things. But how do we find space to keep growing, to continue to live with hope, to find our deeper and truer selves. Nothing could be more important and yet our culture seems hopeless at it. In my day, it was hedonism. Today it is money. Neither of these are fruitful paths in the end. To treat our selves and to be treated with an awareness of the unique, inherent importance and purpose of our souls. Wow. We need more of that. Here’s a bit of warbling on the subject from Psychology Today. I don’ t think it is terribly good, but the point is a solid one: we musn’t sell our souls, and we musn’t drown our spirits. Above all, our education and the education of our children should hold these values as the foremost priority.

Categories: General
Alistair Highet