bossypants-tina-feyRecently, something strange happened to me. I have started to like the people I went to high school with. I cannot pinpoint the moment this started to happen. All I know is my heart has softened.

In high school I managed to be just above sheer mediocrity. I did not make good grades. I hated joining clubs. At home (my favorite place to be), I had a stamp collection and watched that one season of “My So-Called Life” on repeat. My social life revolved mostly around my high school theatre program. It was the one space where I could truly be my loudest self. Years later I would read Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants and immediately identify with her description of the theatre program she experienced as a kid:

With his dream of a theatre program for young people, Larry Wentzler had inadvertently done an amazing thing for all these squirrels. They had a place where they belonged, and, even if it was because he didn’t want to deal with their being different, he didn’t treat them any differently. Which I think is a pretty successful implementation of Christianity.

In short, I was what could generously be called a “late bloomer.” Years later my husband would tell me that he realized in middle school that he could make friends if he smiled more often. This observation astonished me.

And while college was meant to offer me some sort of freedom, the feeling was short-lived. I started school at a theatre program in New Mexico and left at Christmas vacation. I decided that I was not, in fact, going to be the next Julia Roberts. And my parents decided they did not want to fork out money for a degree I was not planning on using. So, much to my horror, when I started at the local state school that spring semester, I was surrounded by people from high school. It was humiliating. They were in history classes with me. I ran into them at the student union. Some of them even lived in my dorm. “Wow. Hey Sarah!” they would say “How was Arizona?” I would mutter “New Mexico. It was New Mexico,” under my breath while trying to avoid eye contact.

My feelings about high school never really improved. Clearly, I felt as though I had been something of a social interloper. Time and distance helped. I managed to do well in college and so I got into a good graduate school. Whenever I thought about what a weirdo I’d felt like in high school, this accomplishment made me feel a little better about myself. But only a little. I was still convinced I was on the outside looking in, and even a degree from the Ivy League failed to help that aching memory.

unnamed (1)And then, out of nowhere, my heart began to shift. I say it was out of nowhere. I think it was out of Facebook. Which is odd. Because we always talk about how we are not really connected on social media. The critique often goes that we are not our real selves in that most public of arenas. And to a certain extent, that is true. But people are people. They get married, get divorced, make babies, lose their jobs, buy a house, find Jesus, get a dog, and sit at the bedside of their dying father. And these days, much of this is documented online. Suddenly, in knowing these little details about my classmates’ lives, I began to feel something akin to love for them. I began to realize that they are not locked into my “Ants Go Marching In” time-warp. They are actual people not limited to my ancient and biased memories of them.

As an adult, I have come to realize that high school, like much of life, is rough for basically everyone. There are no real winners. We all hit our 30s and wonder how and why we are gainfully employed with two mouths to feed.

But I think my affection for the class of 2001 is about more than just our commonalities now. I believe it is about our shared past. Retrospectively, I have come to realize that we made it through something, together. We walked the same florescent lit hallways. We ate lunch together, almost every day, August through May, for four years. Most of us knew where you could smoke a cigarette and not get caught. And as young people, we all experienced incredible exhaustion, stress, and accomplishment for the very first time.

We all hoped we could make something of ourselves in the world. And we are all giving our best shot. So I’ve decided to let my teen angst go as best as I possibly can. Life is short. And people are far too well-meaning and compelling to just be written off.