Thursday, February 27, 2014

Former Classmates and Mortality

I carry so much baggage around with me that, if you could see it, I would look like a bag-lady with the biggest shopping cart ever. A sizable percentage of that baggage comes from the experiences of youth, those formative years when everything seemed daunting and overwhelming. Family is a large component of this weight but high school and junior high loom large in my legend.

That’s why I was caught off guard when I looked at a web page of my high school classmates from the class of ’69 and saw the large number of folks who have already died (about 50 out of around 650). While this percentage isn’t huge, it still seems like a lot for folks in their early sixties. I know it will grow larger with each passing year. That really hit home with concrete evidence of my own mortality.

I remember hearing about Kim’s death in the late seventies. She was found hanging in a jail cell tripping her brains out on acid. She had hung herself with her belt. Neil was killed in a car accident. But these recent deaths were from more natural causes. I googled them for their obits and found out a little about their lives as well as their deaths. Studious David had run a bookstore in Seattle before his number came up and sexy Sarah had worked for a lumber company for 40 years then finally retired and died the same year.
These facts are neither earth-shattering nor startling. In fact, of the other living classmates I found online some moved away and some stayed in Ohio, had gotten married, divorced, had kids or didn’t, were prominent or impossible to find. Some others, like me, had even come out as queer. 

The ways they died weren’t particularly noteworthy either. They include the ways all of us will probably go. Marcia died from breast cancer, Donna succumbed to complications of lupus and with Carol it was Crohn’s disease.

Then I realized the truth: the kids who made my life a living hell as well as those who made it worth living were simply people, totally blown out of rational proportion because of the pressures and lack of perspective that are part and parcel of youth.

None of these folks caused me to feel inferior or less than the person I truly was. Even my misguided, neglectful parents didn’t do that intentionally. I still can’t figure out exactly what it is about being young that can make some people mean and heartless. When I read about the bullying that still happens at that age, I don’t find more clarity.

But I can find greater compassion. We all do the best we can with the tools that are available to us at the time. Can I humanize and forgive those who were imperfect actors in this short, one-act play called life? At this point, I think so.