Six months ago, I got a message from an old school mate: our twenty year reunion is coming up, can you help organise it? Pushing down my initial insecurities about showing up in the first place, I wrote back ‘shit yeah!’ (Never being one to say no to a big night in those days).
‘I knew you’d get the party started’ she wrote back, reminding me of the girl I used to be. But as we soon found out, not everyone was quite so keen. For some, school days were no party at all.
And so as we began inviting people and sharing photos, the quiet responses trickled in. ‘I can’t do it’, they said. ‘School wasn’t a happy time for me, why would I go back there?’
Those messages broke my heart, because they came from some of my closest friends – now, not then. Then, I hardly knew them. I have little experience of their particular insecurities, just like they have little experience of mine. So who was I to tell them they should come anyway, and try and have a good time?
Some scars have the capacity to last a lifetime, and what I learned at my twenty year school reunion is in no way meant to diminish their experience.
A few weeks ago, I came across something that reminded me I too suffered my fair share of what I’d now call bullying, but back then, we just called ‘shit stirring’. Without thinking too much, I shared the anecdote with a wink, ‘Always were the best of friends weren’t we?’ To my surprise the biggest ‘shit stirrer’ wrote back immediately: ‘Shit, sorry Regina that was terrible. I’m sorry’.
I smiled to myself, and thought no more about it. Until about 1am on Saturday night, after a round of tequila shots, when I learned from his close friend just how bad he felt about that incident, how bad he’d felt ever since about how he’d treated me in school. I was incredulous.
‘Yeah really, that’s why he made such a big deal of apologising to you in London?’
‘He was in London?’
My year in London, like my school days, are a bit of a blur. We all had a good laugh, as I realised something I had heard my sisters, who also organised their twenty year reunions, speak of. One of their classmates had said ‘I can’t do it. I couldn’t face up to it. I was such a bitch in school’.
It’s not just the bullied who carry the scars, I learned. Bullies do to.
And so as I talked to him, getting to know him really for the first time and hearing from others just how committed and well respected he is in his particular noble field, I realised it wasn’t just me that went away and grew up. He was, I could tell, as committed to personal growth as I am. How arrogant of me to think otherwise. Or rather, not to think at all.
On Saturday night, I had been taken aback to see how different some people looked – in my memory they were still teenagers and some of them still behaved that way. But he taught me otherwise.
So hours after we’d nervously walked through the door, I looked around the room and smiled. On the one hand, it felt like no time had passed and yet the genuine, deep conversations and laughter all around me told me the opposite – much water had clearly passed under the bridge.
Life, it seemed had softened us, sweetened our conversations and made us genuinely more caring and interested in each other.
And so as my co-organiser and I relaxed into the night, we pondered that other benefit of growing up: perspective. We only had to look up on the wall to one beaming, youthful face to feel it. We lost our classmate in a freak accident when he was only 21.
She and I talked about the fact we each have friends with terminal illnesses, and agreed this gave us all the perspective we needed to get behind the reunion, to eek every last drop out of life, in fact.
We toasted our champagne and agreed life is short and very often, unpredictable. Old wounds can heal. Old friendships can be rekindled. And when, twenty years after you never thought you would, you find yourself having perhaps made a new friend, or a new insight – well that was definitely worth showing up for.