Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
There is a lucky bamboo in our bedroom by the window. I bought it four or five years ago and put it in a clear glass vase filled with pebbles. There’s no dirt, just the plant, pebbles and some water. When I bought it, it was only about a foot tall and now it has grown to about three feet tall.
I love looking at its tangled roots encircling the pebbles. I think of the beautiful and mysterious process of life that is taking place in this ecosystem as the plant derives sustenance from rocks, light and water. I try to imagine the animated, interstitial boundaries where transformation is taking place, where minerals and chemicals are being formed and reformed. I imagine that heat is produced, that there’s no beginning and no end, as with any creative process. The rocks become dirt, the plant, over time, grows and changes. Organisms, the rocks, water and light are the plant; the plant is rocks, water and light and organisms.
Then I take what I understand of this extraordinary creative force and apply it philosophically to my own life.
This weekend I attended my 30th high school reunion. My mind and heart are still full to overflowing after meeting my former classmates again. It was such a wonderful evening, and altogether too short.
I graduated from high school with chips on my shoulders so big, that not even Sisyphus would have been able to haul them up a mountain. I couldn’t have cared less if I saw most of my classmates again.
In the intervening years, I’ve matured and changed. This is especially evident when people don’t recognize each other. Who are you, they ask? And then laughter and hugs and the connection is made and memories trace back, back, back, and the mind plays with contexts past and present. We see the essence of the person, the younger them. We are all smiling at our younger selves and our friends’ younger selves.
We’ve had three reunions since graduation: our 10th, 20th and now 30th.
And at every reunion, I meet people who I am getting to know for the first time, but, paradoxically, I actually know. Time changes us, we grow. And I’ve come to really, really like these people, my old friends, the people I thought 30 years ago I never wanted to see again. They’re so nice, thoughtful, kind and interesting. I’ve evolved. They’ve evolved.
High school can be a difficult time for many, much more so than elementary school. Even though I had some very unsupportive teachers in elementary school and my parents went through a messy divorce and custody battle, I have good memories of the kids I went through school with. Some of us are still friends and many of us have reconnected thanks to social media. We laugh and share stories, like when we went to horse camp and galloped away against the rules and fell off our horses and had to muck the stables for the week, or about our creepy grade seven teacher, or about the track and field stars, or about the “clackers” that we shared and bruised our wrists with.
I didn’t feel inferior to these kids. They were just kids. I did feel inferior intellectually, but that was thanks largely to one particular teacher who called me stupid and kept me after school only to reinforce this message. It made me nervous and uncomfortable as you can imagine. But the kids were just kids, it was never about them. Even if some of us didn’t get along it was just because we didn’t get along, and then we’d just be with someone else.
In elementary school I didn’t think it was important to consider the clothes or shoes or houses or pools or cars that the other kids’ families had or didn’t have. In elementary school we just played together and walked home together and ate snacks after school and climbed trees or did homework or shared secrets or made things out of cardboard and paint and glue, went to Brownies or Guides or Cubs or soccer or ballet…
Comparisons happened in high school. That’s where I began to learn to define myself in comparison to others. Did I fit in, was I “cool,” popular, pretty, thin, sporty, smart, wealthy? It started getting complicated. Where do you put your hands while you’re walking down the hallway so you don’t look awkward? How do you walk and look cool? That boy doesn’t even know I exist and I have a crush on him. I’m SUCH a loser. Those girls always hang out together and I swear they’re talking about me. I don’t think they like me. (Pretend like you don’t care, even if you do.)
Transformation takes place. A building up of Ego as Self takes place.
I was training to be a ballet dancer at the time. It consumed my life. I trained 3-5 times a week, after school and on the weekends. That was my salvation, as well as my damnation. I was overweight and tortured my body in an attempt to lose the weight. But that’s another story and another neurosis. But dance gave me something else to focus on other than whether or not I was liked. I was a dancer and I loved dancing.
By the time I graduated, pebbles accreted into chips that were securely balanced and weighted on my shoulders. Everything these “other” kids were, I wasn’t. And I was more than eager to graduate.
When, at our 10th year reunion, I talked with my former classmates – some were married, had children, may have divorced, started careers or were struggling to find their way – I began to notice that we were all changing. Although there was still some cliquey-ness, things were changing gradually none the less. Like the boulders that had accreted on my shoulders, we were all accumulating life experiences, and life experiences are also like water and roots and light that wear rocks down to transform them into nourishment. We were all growing at different rates and deriving nutriment from our lives in different ways.
At our 20th reunion, I had long in-depth conversations with people I may never have thought would ever want to talk to me in high school. As I got ready to go to the reunion, young Ingrid took hold and nervously played with old fears and neuroses. Inferiority bubbled to the surface. ‘You’re not good enough for [insert subject].’ I rehearsed things to say that would deflect the subject to something else. But, instead of what I expected, I had a fun! I was surprised by the warmth with which many of my former classmates greeted me. I had stimulating conversations with people who were leading dynamic lives, who also had hopes and fears, failures and successes. Could it be that I had been wrong all these years? Perhaps it wasn’t just me? Could they have neuroses too? What a thought!
Finally, I was starting to grow up.
This past Saturday, for five hours, I connected with such nice, kind, thoughtful, engaging people. People I knew but didn’t know. People I’m sincerely interested in – in their lives, in who they are. I’m less interested in what they do or how they are defined in the conventional sense. I’m interested in them. Who were they then? Who are they now? What are their stories? I noticed that at the core of each of them I saw the sparkle of the kid they had been, and that was comforting. I saw something old, familiar and really beautiful.
Today I’m very, very grateful that I have these people in my life, even if I see them for a few hours every ten years. I’ve known some of them since kindergarten to grade twelve and even longer. Having this shared history is a way of making contact with our shared evolution. It opens us, kneads our hearts, softens our preconceptions.
I think we’re not unlike the lucky bamboo in my bedroom. We are products of the dynamic interstitial spaces of our experiences and environment, the stuff of “life” that’s transformed into nourishment so we can grow and in turn transform and give nutriment back to life. What is built is dissolved to be built and dissolved again. We are always in flux, ebbing, flowing, changing.
We are the rocks, the dirt, the plants, the light, the water, changing and growing over time.
And old friends can remind us of this.