Sunday, August 20, 2006

I Dream of High School

I'm forty-one years old. That means that for more than half of my life, I have been out of school. I never went to college -- I spent my time after high school working a variety of jobs to try and support my daughter (yes, I became a parent very young, that's a whole other story), and I spent six years in the U.S. Army. I did take a few college courses while in the Army, but to me, that's not anything like actually "going to college" like many folks do.

My guess is that even for those who went to college, high school still stands out as unique and pivotal among the various time slices that combine to make up our life experiences. Looking back, it certainly did for me.

Although it was a time of intense inner turmoil for me, it was also a time of relative stability in my life. I spent four consecutive years in the same giant honeycomb of a building, faced with often intense and seemingly meaningful social interaction with many of the same kids who I had watched grow up beside me for several years. But now those kids had social standing, and strong personal identities, and an image carefully sculpted for peer consumption.

I have no regrets, because what I am today is in some way the sum of my decisions and life experiences. But I do wish I had done a lot of things differently. I had a lot of opportunities, and I was supported and surrounded by a lot of love at home. At the risk of sounding like I'm boasting (though I'm not, except boasting in my Maker), God gave me a mind which could have taken me anywhere, and allowed me to be or do anything I chose -- if I had just applied myself. Academic endeavors came easily to me, and even with no studying or effort, I cranked out A's and an occasional B (usually from classes that included completion of homework in the grading scheme).

Socially, I was more of an outsider than anything. I never participated in extracurricular activities or clubs, never made it into the really cool or popular social circles, never got invited to the big events that were the buzz of the day. I sort of enjoyed being a mysterious outsider, and I often befriended kids that didn't quite fit in, or were more preoccupied with being anti-social than social. For a few years I also hung out with the party crowd ("party", of course, being a euphemism for a variety of mischevious and even dangerous activities that did not involve wearing silly hats or eating cake), and that became a big part of my identity, both personally and in the minds of most of my classmates. Frankly, I kind of liked that the other kids thought I was a little dangerous, associated with long hair and rock music, a rebel and a freak. I could run circles around most of them academically, but they couldn't reconcile that fact with who or what they thought I was. I was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. (Okay, I'm lame for using that phrase, which Churchill originally used to describe Russia).

By my senior year, I had undergone a radical personal transformation when a long, intense, and (to most of my classmates) unknown quest led me to Jesus. I spent most of my senior year carrying a Bible around in school and trying to convince people of the importance of the discovery I had made. But irony being what it is, by this time my reputation was set in cement, and most of my classmates regarded me as a doped-up, long-haired rock musician who had no idea what I was talking about. I think that most of the people I knew, except for a few of my closest friends, put no serious credence in my apparent conversion experience.

As I would imagine is the case for most people, I never saw or heard from most of my classmates again after we graduated. When I looked through one of those "find your classmates" web sites a few years ago, I realized that I really didn't know very many of my classmates very well. There was a very small inner circle of friends who really knew me, and then there was Everyone Else. We had all spent a lot of time, energy, and effort trying to impress Everyone Else, and in the end, took very little notice of what Everyone Else was actually doing.

Which brings me to the whole reason that I started this entry. I awoke this morning with a dream still fresh in my head. Most nights, I either don't remember what I dreamed about, or I've forgotten it completely by lunchtime. But the dream I had last night, has been a recurring dream for many years, in some form or another. It's not identical or repetitive each time, but the theme is always the same: I've gone back to high school to do it all over again. Even though I blend in, and they don't know who I really am, I'm older than all the other kids, and have learned lessons that none of them have learned yet. I have an edge over all them, and am there not because I have to be, but because I want to be. I know that I've already graduated and gotten my diploma, so there's no pressure on me to actually complete any classes, or even show up. I can leave at any time and return to my life after high school. And yet in this dream, I still attend each class faithfully, and look just like all the other students.

This dream usually includes some of the fears and anxieties that many of us had during that time -- the bell rings and I can't even find my locker or remember my combination, or I forget which class I'm supposed to be in or which period it is, or I don't have that big term paper that is due today.

Honestly, I have no idea why I have this dream. I'm sure a psychologist or some other trained professional could slice, dice, and analyze it with certainty, within mere moments. I'm not sure that doing that would make me stop having this dream anyway. In truth, I don't think I should be going too deep to discover the meaning behind this -- it's just a dream, no more real or important than dreams that I'm flying, or dreams that I'm riding on a train through a strange landscape, or whatever flickering images my mind sees at night.

But while I'm thinking about these things, and while the subject is fresh in my mind, I suppose that it doesn't hurt to try and learn something from my thoughts. You would think that the one lesson we should all learn as we get older is to make the most of the present time, because at some point in the future, we're going to be looking back on the present time and viewing it with older, and hopefully wiser, eyes. I think it's worth asking ourselves -- are we making the most of every moment we have right now, or are we more concerned with what Everyone Else thinks about us? And in a few years, will Everyone Else even remember our name?


  1. Me, I do not often have vivid or memorable dreams. My wife, though, has had a few crazy ones in her time.

    I knew a guy in high school who seems a bit like you describe yourself. Everyone called him "Stoney". He told me once, talking about how he came to know Christ, that he learned that he first tried to fill the emptyness in his life with drugs and, when he saw the futility in that, with sex. Neither satisfied his need that was met in Christ. And yet, despite his change, he was branded by Everyone Else.

    Personally, I never was interested in being part of Everyone Else.

  2. I hate those dreams of forgetting that I registered for a class and I forgot to go all semester. Had a few of those. They REALLY suck.

    The dreams where you are naked and can't find your clothes are pretty much the worst. I had one of those and I was stuck in the kids section at a walmart. None of the clothes would fit. I ended up in the tires section and I made some clothes out of used tires and kind of looked like the michelin man.

  3. I can never remember my dreams exactly. And it drives my wife crazy, but if I don't like the way my dream is going, I change it. I'll be dreaming, something weird or bad will happen, I'll say to myself, "No, that's dumb. I don't want to do that." Then I change it to what I would rather it were. Is that strange?