Overthinking my 20th High School Reunion

This past weekend I went to my 20th high school reunion in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina (East Surry High School, class of 1996). It was great. I loved seeing everyone. I couldn't believe how much everyone looked like they did in high school. My high school was small, and the class of '96 was only 98 or 99, I think. We all knew each other. About 30 came to the reunion. We talked about our kids, our jobs, and tried to identify the others from our class who weren't there. I had been anxious because it was my first reunion ever--I hadn't seen most of them in over 20 years--and I wasn't sure what the dynamic would be. Well, it was the same as ever. I was right back in high school, and it was especially fun to introduce my wife to all my old friends and let her see what I was like high school. It was non-stop catching up for four hours.

Then we left, and the next morning everything felt wrong. Had I said goodbye to everyone? I mean, I won't see most of them for at least five years. My memory of the previous evening began to feel more and more surreal--like a trip in a time machine, or a ghost showing me what my life was/might have been like if I hadn't left Pilot Mountain. I had just told someone before the reunion that high school was at least three lifetimes ago. Afterwards, it felt like I had been dropped into a different life, and then plucked out just as quickly. It was jarring and depressing.

After high school, I began to seek out experiences that would take me far from my hometown--both physically and culturally. I wasn't trying to get away because I didn't like it--in fact, I never connected with movies or songs about kids who just wanted to break out of their hometowns--I was just curious. I ended up living in South Korea for two years as a Mormon missionary. I got married and spent ten years in grad school in Utah and Texas. It's not an especially adventurous résumé, but compared to the religiously conservative, rural South, I got pretty far afield.

My accent changed. Through learning Korean, with its pure vowels, I lost most of my Southern diphthongs. My politics changed as I lived poor in big cities; I started to see the role of government differently. I began to prefer Asian food and TexMex as much as pintos and cornbread. Megan says--and I take it as a compliment--that most people aren't as open to adapting themselves to new things as I am. I certainly think that clinging to tradition (whether it be guns, religion, or whatever) is a spectacularly bad way to live life. Finding the best part of everything is the most efficient way to become a better person! Anyway, I've taken bits of philosophy and culture from everywhere I lived, everything I studied, and every professor and colleague I've worked with--hopefully the best parts--all without giving up any of who I am and who I've always been.

Except it didn't feel that way after my reunion. It felt like I had lived three lifetimes since high school, but everyone else was the same. Then, of course, I realized I probably hadn't changed all that much either. So is it more depressing to think you haven't changed in twenty years or that you've become a completely different person?

I've had this recurring... not really a nightmare... but a very unsettling dream ever since Isabella was born. In it, I am asked to go on a mission for my church to Korea. It's always funny to me how my subconscious has to rationalize this since we don't do second missions, and we don't go on missions when we're married. (I think there's part of my subconscious that remembers learning that in the early days of the church, men were called to leave their families to go on missions.) Anyway, in the dream, I both want to go and desperately don't want to leave. I'm not sure I ever actually get there, although the long trans-Pacific flight is always a central element. The anxiety comes from knowing I can never really go back to the same experience, partly because that place has changed, but mainly because I've changed (I think that's what my family symbolizes in the dream).

The feeling I had the morning after my reunion was eerily similar to way I feel in that dream. I was going home again, and yet knowing I can never go home again. Anyway, looking forward to seeing everyone again in five years!


©2017 Joshua Harris