Monday, September 13, 2021

Outsider Eyes

I was never much of a small talker. That means I flounder a bit when I'm in a big group of people and I have to schmooze. It's not my natural habitat. I can strike up a conversation with one person or a few and get to know them quite well, but my degree of chattiness is in inverse proportion to the number of people in the room. It is the legacy of a shy person. 

I walk with a group of friends each week and recently I commented that I was shy. They turned and  looked at me in amazement, familiar with the gregarious small group me. Some had seen me in my public mode, in front of a room talking on a subject that I knew well. That’s a different me too and it often fools people.  I’m always slightly amazed myself. Even as a shy person, I have opinions and I have found that tends to draw me into the center of things.


I was reminded of the inner me as my 50th high school reunion approached and I dithered over whether to attend. Would I revert to that shy person once again? Would I walk into the room and want to flee? With an eight hour drive to get there, accompanied by my husband, it wasn’t a small commitment. I remember going to a party as a newly single person and having that flight reaction. I gave myself permission to leave, but only after I talked to three new people. By then I was comfortable. I had learned how to work my way into a room, past my discomfort. But that approach works best solo. Being a couple can too often become a social crutch, no matter how welcome that crutch may be in the moment.


I reached out to some high school friends on Facebook to see if any of them were going. We were all curious about our classmates, but as covid flared up again we all had hesitation as well as conflicted feelings. High school was not our happy place. As I talked with different friends in my life today about it, some replied, “Oh you have to go!" Others confided that they had never gone to one and have no intention of ever going. I am much closer to those in the latter variety.

I think those who were on the outside in high school, and didn’t fit within the rosy picture of high school nostalgia, often carry those outsider eyes into their adult life. That is not a bad thing. It certainly fosters compassion and empathy for others and it often plays out in different career paths. Those outsiders become the artists, the writers, the educators – the people who often serve as change makers and interpreters. It takes being outside of things sometimes to see it clearly, perhaps because we aren't invested in the existing hierarchy. That is the first step to creating change. It also allows us to reach out to people in different spheres as we are not fully  identified with just one. Now that is not to say that those who did have the stereotypic high school experience may not come to similar places later in life. Life isn’t high school and over time we may all share experiences that cause us to view our world through a new lens. Still, us outsiders have a leg up on that. We were eager to enter the world and leave high school behind. That openness to new experiences often led each of us to new opportunities that shaped our life.

Those planning the reunion had a survey that asked what were we most proud of in the course of those intervening years. I thought of the many things I have accomplished in my life. It makes for a nice résumé, but those are not the things I take pride in. In the bigger picture, I’ve learned how to navigate the world. To respond with resilience, to reinvent myself as necessary, taking on new challenges in a wide range of fields. And I’ve continued to learn and grow and have had a rewarding life as a result. See, not exactly the answer of a small talker. It is a bit like when someone asks how you are and you proceed to tell them way more than they bargained for when "fine" would have sufficed.

There was a question about something we liked in high school and I considered my first response which was “leaving,” but concluded that sounded a little too “Bah humbug” for the occasion. I dug deeper to my memories of art class which introduced me to a path I have sustained throughout my life, and one which years later led me to meet my husband in a life drawing group.

So what did I decide after all this contemplation? No road trip for now. Perhaps a Zoom call with a small group of high school friends will suffice. Were it not for covid, the scales might have tipped the other way. And perhaps they still will. Sounds like they are postponing until next year so more to come.