It’s already 50 years down the road—unbelievable! Concord High School class of 1972 celebrates its 50th reunion this year. Will I recognize faces? I messaged Jolene and asked her, “How will I ever know who’s who?” She assured me everyone will wear name tags. My memory is bad, but a few memories I recall vividly. When I share some of them, a frequent response is, “That’s not how it was.” My heart drops, I feel like the dunce in the class again. I’m 68. Why does walking down memory lane turn you into the unconfident, unpoised, ever-awkward teenager?
Subconsciously we choose our memories. We keep some and throw out the ones we don’t like. Two of my sisters insist that my memories are correct, even though they recall the same incident entirely differently. Details are unimportant. The meaning and emotions of what is remembered is what counts. Everyone’s recall of an event is perfect, and as important as the next persons. I write stories and send my memories across the world, hoping a classmate, a friend, might read it. I’ve had some responses:
Looking back, I wish we would have been more supportive to you, but we were also kids, and just as confused.
Yes, now it’s easy to understand that as teenagers, many of us were confused. And not, as I thought at the time, only me.
From 1969-1972 the teenagers of Concord High School processed life through varying stages of personal crisis and muddled misunderstandings. It was the hippie era, peace sit-ins, anti-war protests, learning to make marijuana brownies, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Rod Stewart… trends and influences within a culture we were trying to emulate. For me, the world became darker and devoid of color. Grey took the forefront. I was searching for that bridge over troubled, raging waters. It seemed like the end as I witnessed children losing their mothers, parents losing their children. Accidents that injured or claimed lives; all at the tender age of searching for life’s purpose. The math didn’t add up.
When my mother was murdered, Dad aged overnight. He was transformed into the exact replica of my grandfather. He was a walking sack of bones, and every muscle in his face drooped. My sisters and I were irrevocably altered, moving through our lives with ghost-like faces. Our close-knit neighborhood was masked in anxiety, frozen in their own shock and fear. The choking lump in our throats left us speechless.
From childhood I intended to go to India. I hadn’t counted on the mess my life would be in by then. I thought I’d skip over to India and take care of orphans in the same manner that the wonderful Flying Nun did in the T.V. series.
In 9th grade, while sitting on the bleachers at a football pep-session, I heard my name announced over the loudspeakers. I feared I’d been caught doing something wrong with my friend, Jane, but instead, found all the girls closing-in to congratulate me. I was clueless.
“Why did they announce my name?”
Jane said, “You’ve been elected Homecoming Attendant.” I didn’t want to show my ignorance, so I waited until later to find out what that meant. It was an honor to be elected, and my mother pampered me with such obvious pride. She took me shopping and picked out my dress-suit for the occasion. She styled my hair, and then sprayed it until the curls around my head were stiff enough to support a banana. Not a hair would blow out of place—even in a hurricane. It was the last time I would be so pampered in by her. When she was murdered, grief and anger turned to teenage rebellion.
I tried for a while. One day, Mr. Lowery had a board drill in Algebra class. My turn came and I marched to the front of the class. I hated algebra. We wrote the problem down as he read, and we each worked on the board as fast as we could. I finished first. Mr. Lowrey’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe I got the right answer. Not only was it correct, I beat everyone!
I played on the girls’ basketball team, and during the last seconds of a game, we needed one more basket to give us a victory. Suddenly, the ball landed in my hands. With no time left, everyone yelled, “Shoot!” I was in the middle of the court. With a mighty heave, I “shot.” The ball was in the air when the buzzer sounded… Whoosh! Cheers erupted across the stadium. What an amazing stroke of luck! And what a great memory. Please don’t correct that memory because I like it very much.
I also remember taking my driver’s training test. It was a summer course, and most of us were keen to get a license. I was beyond nervous—I was terrified I’d fail. The test official had me drive into the country to see how I’d maneuver 4 way-stops. I pulled up gently to the stop sign and stopped. I was in a manual car. When the car came to a halt, I realized I’d pulled too far into the intersection. I panicked. So, pretending to be calm and in control, I shifted to reverse and moved back a bit. The teacher seemed to approve. I gained confidence. I looked every direction, and then pressed the gas to cross the intersection; alas! I went backwards! I was still in reverse! Luckily, I jammed the brake before I hit the car behind me. Somehow, that teacher had mercy. Perhaps he saw my nervousness, or remembered being a teenager himself. Whatever the case, I passed.
Until then, I had gone by the books, done everything right and went by the rules. At school, teachers trusted me… and I knew it. I took advantage of it by putting on my coat and hat and strolling out the door, nodding pleasantly to teachers on the way out. It was easy.
One night I brought an African American friend to a basketball game. I was stared at… he was stared at more. Later, a teacher informed me that I was kept off the Honor Society because of it. Concord, in those days, was a very white school. Later, I brought my girls club (African American girls from a poorer area of town) to drape the school’s trees with toilet paper. (Apologies for that one.)
As a senior in high school, I was again one of the four girls elected Attendant, and one of us would become Queen. My name as Attendant was announced over the loudspeakers during one of my classes. It was basketball season, which meant attendants wore formal gowns. I was a dedicated, rebellious hippie. A formal gown was not doable for me.
As soon as I heard my name, I turned around in my seat, my cousin, Steve, was sitting behind me. “Do you want to be my escort? I’m wearing a jeans skirt and a white baggy shirt and climbing boots. As my escort you’ll have to wear jeans and a matching white T-shirt with running shoes. What do you say?” He looked at me with rascally eyes, while his eyebrows rose up playfully. It was obvious. He couldn’t resist such a mutinous offer. “Okay.” That settled that.
On that auspicious day, Steve and I walked onto the Homecoming court arm in arm, wearing our cheap second-hand clothing. Half the crowd booed, and half cheered. It was a rebellious victory and stamped a happy image into my memory. My apologies to my other attendants and the Queen; I meant no harm. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone; I was just trying to find my way. It didn’t help that I was a pressure-cooker about to blow.
The night mom died, my family and church friends had gathered at a relatives’ house. Police detectives had monopolized our house, investigating and fingerprinting everything. I couldn’t sleep, so I roamed closer to where the adults sat talking in whispers. I was not visible to them in the dark hallway. Someone said: “It must have been God’s will!”
I was taken-aback. “God’s will?” That surely wasn’t true. It contradicted everything I learned in years of Sunday School; God is Love, Jesus saves, God sends angels for protection and only does good. But those words resounded and echoed through my mind like an arrow through my heart. They hurt not only me, but stamped out the faith my mother had taught and raised us with. I decided right then. God was no longer the good guy and threw Him out.
Our friends and classmates saw our pain and grief and avoided talking to us, because, they were also confused. We sisters were becoming that event, and, the event itself was confusing. It made no sense. What could they say?
I arrived in India in 1974. I was 20. My ambition was not only to help orphans, but to find God. God and I had a mutual antagonism towards each other. He killed my mother. He killed my friend and classmate, Mike. God was the murderer who held the whole world in His hands. That’s a lot of control. I wanted truth; whether it be in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhs, Jains or other. India had every religion. I’d surely find truth in India (and a refuge from Christians).
My classmates in school know that my high school years were tarnished with crisis. But you should know that the reason I went to India was not only to “serve,” but also to find God, to find purpose, to find a reason to live. If didn’t get out of grief, trauma and self-pity, I’d have died. I’m quite sure. At that point of life, unknown to me, the plan had been laid out by my mortal enemy, God. I have no idea why all the bad stuff happens, except that God is able to turn it into good for your life. I began serving children whose vital need was love.
The cure to my soul was serving with love. To do that, my eyes were off myself. Selfishness disappeared like water evaporates; disappointment turned into deep satisfaction. It’s amazing just how simple it is. I stepped out of the victim role and moved into being someone else. I had to have a different perspective to see that I was running away from life, from truth, and from God. From this new perspective, from across the world, I had to look, once more, at Jesus.
One day, I met him. I never confessed my sins or even admitted I was a sinner. I simply, gave up running from Him, and said, “I want to be your friend.” That was when life re- entered my spirit. And I knew Him. There was nothing hidden, nothing to be worked for. Jesus is love, and through Him I learned how to love.
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. I Corinthians 13: 4-7
When I place God centerstage, I am free. He frees me from being the 1969 event— Mom’s murder, for which classmates remember me. He taught me forgiveness and love. He showed me I’m no better than anyone else; not even a murderer.
That’s what I wanted to say. I didn’t mean to stay so far away for the last 50 years, but India is far away from Concord High School. I cherish all the memories and all the relationships. Sorry for hurting anyone, and sorry for any pain many of you faced in our school days.
I never expected to have anything to do with school. But in 1986, Yip and I started a school. Exactly 50 years down the road, our first graduation. The Class of 2022.
Hurting each other was never intended. Being 68 is good. My perspective has matured, and I still have time to grow. Through all the hardships, trauma and grief, life has been rich; it’s been amazing. Thanks, classmates, for being part of mine. You’ve given me memories and friendship.
Can you find me?
See you at the 50th.
P.S. Please wear your name tag!