I went to a public high school in coastal Florida. It was early-to-mid 70s, and the cutting edge of education theory and practice looked different than it does now. I'd always heard – although I have no actual proof – that the state of Florida used my school as their experimental site. Try it there first.
We started the day at 7 something and ended at 12:30. Our dress code, as I remember it, prohibited only bathing suits and midriff exposure. We had modular scheduling and open campus, which means we could go to the beach or out for breakfast if we had a long enough open period between classes, which there often was. (We also could use the open periods to study, the model's initial hope.) We could be done for the day by mid-morning if we scheduled our classes tightly in the early hours. But we had good teachers with high academic expectations and lots of opportunity for civic involvement. An interesting combination of rigor and laxity.
I just returned from a weekend-long high school reunion. My fortieth. I've been gone a long time – we all have – so I didn't know what to expect. The points of commonality with old classmates fade with the years, after all, and forty years is substantial. I figured if I only spent time with a couple of my closer friends and some time on the beach, the trip would be worthwhile. I was wrong because the weekend was so much more.
When I was in high school I had a lack of imagination about who people were inside and about what people could become, about the ways we could succeed and the ways we could be broken, about the ways that many already had been broken, even at 16. I didn't yet comprehend the complexity of human life.
Maybe that's the nature of being a teenager. Thankfully the nature of being mid-to-late 50s is that we've all lived a lot of life by now. The complexity of human life is no longer hidden. We are each of us, all of us, making our way.
Old friends and new-old friends, we talked late into the night (OK, early morning). We laid on the beach. Joked about our middle-age bodies and swimsuits. Bobbed in the Gulf. Reminisced. Prayed. Spoke of the future. Confided. Laughed. Laughed. Laughed. We spoke into each other's lives. Maybe that last thing is what surprised me most: that people who have been apart for decades have the power to speak into each other's lives by virtue of the fact of knowing each other growing up.
It felt sheer privilege to be back among these men and women I came of age with, to see such sparkle and verve, to feel a crazy inexplicable bond and love, even with those I hadn't known well, to witness what people have become and overcome.
Being in the presence of people I knew at the age of 13 or 15 expanded me. My life feels longer than it did last week, as if a thread that had been twisted to a knot at its end was untwisted and laid out straight again to reflect its true length, end to end.
My gratitude for the good that came from a high school operating on a misguided educational model is deep. My imagination over what people can become and what we can overcome and the ways that God works in all our lives is bubbling.
[Photo: a yearbook picture taken of me senior year by Bobby Whitlatch, copied now with my cell phone; evidence that I studied – usually – during those open periods. I still remember what I was wearing in this picture; you can't see them, but I was wearing burgundy and white plaid pants, which I sewed myself. Yes, burgundy and white plaid.]