By the time we reach high school, I believe we are fundamentally who we are.
This thought has been knocking about in my head for a while as I’ve been writing a memoir that explores the aftermath of an event that took place at that time in my life.
Two friends who were around then are still in my life. Spending time with them this summer celebrating our 60thbirthdays, I couldn’t help but see pieces of our former selves showing up. In the stories we told. Or the way we interacted with one another. But these pieces made a more complete portrait when we recalled our yearbook pages.
Our graduating class was small enough to allow each of us to choose our own photographs and quote.
The abstract painter who thinks expansively and notices how the light is shining chose the T.S. Eliot quote, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”
The landscape designer and sculptor who selected a photo of herself leaping on a hill beside the trees selected Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found in me an invincible summer.”
And yours truly, the personal essayist who loves to take photos and listen to folk music went with lyrics from a Simon and Garfunkel song: Time it was and what a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.
I know it’s a statistically small group, but isn’t this proof that we are who we are by the time we graduate high school?
Returning to these pages was a reminder of what attracted me to these women in the first place. Even as teenagers, the painter would look up at the sky to assess the color, texture and light; the landscape designer and sculptor wanted to understand the topography in three dimensions and the writer was always searching for the words to capture it.
We definitely change as we age. If we’re lucky, we even evolve. But what we chose to represent ourselves to be remembered for all time confirms my hunch that we are uniquely us at an early age.
And I think there is great value in rediscovering what that is. It may help answer the question: What am I here to do?
Which feels especially important now.
During these last lingering days of summer, for fun or if you are up for some personal discovery, I urge you to pull out your high school yearbook. If you don’t have one, retrieve that box of old photographs or letters. Maybe you can dig up that diary you started but never finished.
If you can’t get your hands on any of these, call an old friend. Ask him about back then. See yourself through her eyes and your grownup ones.
Until I began to write this post, I believed that the lyrics I borrowed for my yearbook page were the complete version of a song titled “Bookends.” Turns out I was wrong. The lyrics are the coda, a miniature melody attached at the end of a piece, from a song titled “Old Friends” from the album Bookends.
Old friends. Of course! How appropriate.
It’s the last verse that popped out at me.
I will have to remember to find a park bench and queue up this song when we get together for our seventieth.
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
To resurrecting a lost part of yourself or reaching out to an old friend this month.
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