A friend from high school who lives in Colorado recently returned to Nashville to visit his mother. He arranged for some of us who still live in Tennessee to get together in a bar and hang out with him while he was in town. I thought about why it took his visit to compel the rest of us to reconnect. After all, most of us live within a couple hours of each other. But that’s not such a mystery, is it? In our 30s, we’re not the same people we were in our teens. Right?
I walked into the bar that night and felt a little like that dream people have where they’ve skipped class all semester but now they have to take the final exam. Panicky. Second-guessing. What to say when you don’t recognize someone? Who to stand beside? Hug or handshake? Talk about now, or talk about then? A friend I’ve had most of my life said, “What are you nervous about? You’ve known these people forever.” I thought to myself, “Doesn’t he know how nervous I am telling him that I’m nervous?”
But in hindsight, he was right.
There were hilarious quips and stories, told with silly theatrics by guys who never used irony as a joke, not even in the 90s. There were quietly confident, perceptive women who grew from sensitive, self-aware girls – writers and artists in their youth, hobbies some translated to careers. There were men with giant muscles I’m certain they didn’t have when we were kids. But when we were kids, those guys already had the swagger their bodies knew was coming. A couple of people made me feel uncomfortably pristine, and for inexplicable reasons I felt compelled to be extra friendly, extra pretty, and extra professional around them – a grown-up goody two shoes.
In high school, I stayed up late at night adding detail to class assignments I could have earned As on with half as much work. My mother brought me brownies. As an adult, I write blog posts – without pay, for a tiny group of people – after working ten or more hours as a journalist at a metropolitan newspaper. My husband just brought me a slice of blueberry pie.
All this to say, not much has changed. Perhaps something like war, violent crime, or debilitating disease can fundamentally alter the way one processes situations, makes decisions and lives their day-to-day life. But I watch my daughter throw herself immediately and passionately into some project she invented ten minutes ago and I can’t help but think that a) personality has a genetic component and b) it’s therefore going to stick with you as you grow up.
I walked into that bar with my old buddies and I had the same insecurities, hopes and ambitions I’ve always had. I don’t see them often, but that’s because our lives no longer intertwine. It’s not that we have fundamentally changed. We’re just more concentrated – and hopefully more self-aware, less self-centered – versions of who we’ve always been.