Category Archives: Excavating

Homecoming

Sometimes you can go back.

But why, you might ask, why would I want to go back to this:

I'm with the bandI’m 17. I’m with the band.

This photo (no shocker that it was my entry into Edenland’s Dork Olympics many years ago) was taken one autumn during my high school years. I was a proud member of the marching band, we of the ridiculously hot and unfashionable uniforms and the furry hats designed by Coneheads from France. I played the piccolo — it was the lightest instrument of all and you could always hear my part. I was a squad captain and a serial dater* of members of the drum section. Band was my social group. Yes, we were super-nerds, but we were super-nerds together.

My high school is now in its 50th year, and to celebrate, the current marching band director invited all band alumnae to play last week at the Homecoming game under the Friday night lights.

It was cold, drizzly and miserable — a 40 degree drop from the temperatures the day before. I almost didn’t go. Would I know anyone? Would I recognize anyone? Could I still play? Would the whole thing bore my children?

Luckily, come Friday afternoon my friend DeDe, a flautist, made me hold up my earlierĀ  invitation that we go together. I no longer had a stylin’ hat but I still had my piccolo, my mad Star Spangled Anthem skillz, and a love of wearing the purple. Roger and Reed enjoyed the football game and Tessa enjoyed hanging out with the high school teenagers who were warm and welcoming to we old-timers.

Our friend and brass player Ralph joined for this photo, taken by Tessa.

Homecoming with the marching band

Longtime readers know I like to time travel. And as I played the school fight song and closed my eyes, I was in two places at once. I was a fresh-faced 17 year-old who hadn’t dealt with any real tribulation (but who considered an ill-placed zit a MAJOR TRAGEDY!) and who was chomping at the bit for independence, yet fearing it. I was also a middle-aged mom breathing in the cold night air and giving thanks for the paths my life had taken.

I looked at the current generation of marching band members — fresh-faced kids — and could see that they were in for many of the experiences that people in my class had faced since we were last high-stepping on the field. Some would find satisfying careers and some would be stunted job-wise. Some would age well and others not so much. Some would face loss, cancer, widdowhood, tragedy, sadness, and death. Some would revel in children, grandchildren, accomplishments and triumph. Their paths would be a curious combination of luck and effort, of making things happen and of letting things happen.

Just like mine has been. And continues to be.

* By “dater” IĀ  mean that I had a crush on one drummer or another, mostly unrequited.

For shame

I have buried two shameful secrets for most of my life. Today I’m coming clean.

Which is not easy for a recovering perfectionist.

~~~~~

The first involved the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. When I was in 6th grade I made it to the district level and breezed through the written portion of the contest. I got through a round or two of the spotlight spelling, but fell later on the easy-peasy word gauze. Shame filled me. How could I have failed so spectacularly? I was certain that everyone in the room was laughing at the stupid idiot girl who messed up on a one-syllable word.

My parents arrived shortly after my crash-and-burn (they must have had a scheduling conflict for they rarely missed any of our activities) and I was relieved that they had not witnessed my fall. I was more than relieved — I was opportunistic. I thumbed through the Scripps-Howard booklet of words and chose the most difficult one I could find.

I told my parents not that gauze was my downfall, but that psilophyton was. It made my shame more bearable to create the illusion that a more difficult word had knocked me out of the competition.

~~~~~

The second took place a few years later when I turned 16 and set out to get my drivers license. Of course, I aced the written test. All that stood between me and new-found freedom was the actual driving portion of the test. My dad had spent hours teaching me in our family car, and I’d gotten an A in Drivers Ed (they used to offer it in our high school). So I wasn’t worried.

When the time came, though, I bombed the test. I failed to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left. I’m lucky I didn’t cause an accident.

My shame was of epic proportion. I could not tell my parents the truth. Instead, I told them that the instructor must have had it in for me. I just could not face them or myself. I practically convinced myself that my story was true.

Only it wasn’t.

Looking back, and being a parent now, my mom and dad probably knew the truth of both situations (I have never brought it up again, but I suppose this post will open up a conversation!). And of course they loved me anyway, in spite of the failures and the lies about the failures.

I didn’t really get off scot-free. Easing the burden in those moments had the counter-effect of weighing on my conscience all these years.

But instead of now feeling more shame for the young lady who failed, I offer to her compassion for living in fear and forgiveness for hiding her shame with lies.

~~~~~

Why am I bringing these minor-in-the-scheme-of-things up now? Because I’m excavating.

By virtue of burying these episodes for decades, they gained much more power than they merited. Small potatoes, truly. But through the deepness and the darkness, two small kernels of shame became supercharged.

It’s time to neutralize by shining light.

Often, in the light, the things we are most embarrassed by or even ashamed of suddenly seem not so dark, so charged, so burdensome. If we are fortunate, we are able to look at the thing with compassionate eyes and forgive our previous selves for the transgression. We know that most of the time we do the best we can with what we have.

And I think this notion has implications way beyond any spelling bee or drivers test.