Tonight I found myself in a strangely familiar environment. I walked through the doors of my former high school and in instant mental flashbacks, memories, sights and smells flooded my head. It’s a place that at one time I wanted to completely forget but here I found myself in the same situation as a person who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in years, mounting and suddenly finding that they still remember.
Many people don’t know this but I actually dropped out of high school. Being born with a physical handicap I constantly struggled with how to fit in. It probably isn’t true, but when you appear to be a little different on the outside you think everyone is looking at you, something you think even more when you’re a teenager. How do I get people to see past the braces on my legs? the gimpy way I walk? These were always a question in the back of my mind. Combined this with the normal zits and awkward changing teenage body and I was a mess. Unfortunately, having the maturity of a gnat, I didn’t have much of an answer. I typically tried two methods; Standing out or standing down.
Standing out consisted of making a fool of myself. Being a class clown. Telling my peers elaborate stories that weren’t true. I remember one particular incident I was passing a note back and forth (texting wasn’t much of a thing yet) with a kid in a class I was trying to impress. The note which consisted of me telling the kid about my drug usage (which never happened) was confiscated by the teacher and I had to sit through a family/teacher meeting about a problem I didn’t actually have.
Standing down was my more common approach and something I struggled with even into college. Standing down was the opposite of standing out in my all or nothing approach. I couldn’t be embarrassed if I didn’t exist. In this approach I thought people didn’t need to see past my disability, they just didn’t need to see me at all. Many days were spent walking through hallways, sitting in classes, not making any attempt at conversation or relationships. My sole focus in school became getting out. I wouldn’t do anything. Not class work, not relationships, nothing. I was simply a body in a chair some days.
I wasn’t involved in anything, or connected to the larger student body. I didn’t go to anything; not prom, homecoming, football games. Nothing. The closest thing I had to any social support was a group of fellow outcasts in a small -independent of any church- Bible study group. We met in a 40 something year old’s basement which sounds creepy I know, but I am eternally grateful for this random group of rousers.
It would take a book or two to explain the whole process but now I find myself working with the same exact person I dreaded being; a high school student. I’m a sort of catcher in the rye now.
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
I realize I am taking this quote out of context. Holden here was talking about preventing young people from entering into ‘dreadful’ adulthood and yes, I also realize his morals were less than desirable, but bear with me here.
As I sat in the auditorium of my alma matter, I felt regret. First, let me emphasize that I believe things worked out according to God’s plan and I would never trade the few friends I had for anything. With that said, I wish I could have a high school diploma on my wall. Sure, I have a 4.0 in graduate school which is a phenomenal feat for a high school drop out but what I really want are those moments I opted out of.
So I go back. I go back to the halls of high school through the students currently in them. My moments have come and gone and I could wallow in that regret. I could stand down again but this time I choose to stand UP. Through being the big person that is around, I keep other students from going off the cliff like I did and it’s the only thing I would like to be.
Regret turned into beauty tonight as I sat in that auditorium. My old world and my new world collided in a moment of redemption. You see, I was there for a seminar on adolescent mental health. Just another tool to add to my belt as I go back to help the kids in the rye.