Don’t we all have those people in our lives that we want to let know how great we’re doing now, how great we turned out in spite of them? Or those people you just want to let know you aren’t that same weird kid because of them? I’ve had quite a few of those people along the way. The one’s I know think (yes, I’m just conceded enough that I believe they still think about me) I’m probably a community college drop-out, wandering from job to job, desperately searching for a good man.
I had a teacher in high school tell me I would never be able to pass a college level writing class — the first paper I turned in was an A, and the professor raved about it. I wanted to make a copy and mail it to my old high school teacher — I did not. There was also that teacher in middle school (I can hold a grudge) that told me a question I asked was ignorant, like me. When I received my graduate degree from Vanderbilt, I wanted to make a copy of it and mail it to her with a note attached that said, “How’s middle school?” — I did not.
A few years ago I looked up my tennis coach from college. She had always been very supportive and soft-spoken with us all, so this wasn’t a revenge look up — more of a let you know I’m not nearly as screwed up as I appeared back then look up. I started exchanging emails and sporadic phone calls to let her know I had completed graduate school (at Vanderbilt, did I mention that already?), had been married for a while, had three kids, a career — all the important things. I remember one conversation, she asked me what led me to get back in contact with her. Hmm? Just to prove to myself (and her) that I wasn’t a mess — sheer intrinsic need for self-gratification was the real answer.
You know those stories that you wait until you’re completely grown before you tell your parents? I’ve had a few of those stories. Like the time my mother was at the grocery store check out. I was around 21 at the time. The checker looked at her name on the check and asked her if she was my mother. When she told him yes, he proceeded to tell her, “That party she had when we were in high school was the greatest night of my life!” I’m not sure what the time frame is for waiting to tell your mother that you had 350 of your closest friends over that weekend she just happened to be out-of-town — but, I’m pretty sure the five years that had passed from the time of that party until the time she found out about that party was NOT enough.
But, those stories always bring a good laugh at the holidays — especially now that more than twenty years has passed (things become funnier and easier to stomach with time). There’s a few of those stories from college as well — I wonder if enough time has passed so my former coach won’t get mad if she hears about a few of the road trip stories? (The fact that at least one story led to a near deportation of a Swedish tennis player may be an indication that I should wait a few more years.) We all have those stories. The ones we love to share. The ones that show how imperfect we were at the time and how much we’ve grown since.
I think one of the main reasons we re-tell those stories is to prove to the people around us that we’re not that person anymore. Or, in some cases, that we’re much better than they ever gave us credit for. I’m certain that if my life had turned out the way that middle school teacher I’m sure to this day assumes it turned out, that I would be less than willing to share those stories of how I screwed up. I can’t imagine that people whose lives turned out exactly the way the nay-sayers had predicted would re-tell the stories that led them to their demise with a smile on their face. Can you hear Bernie Madoff yucking it up with his old grammar school teacher, “Remember when you use to think I was a sniveling, sneaky, little jerk?”
So, I’d say that remembering those reckless stories with the people we care about is a good way to remind ourselves that we’re not so bad after all. A good way to remember that we turned out ok in spite of some people and because of some others. I definitely think that Stuart Smalley was on to something — a little daily affirmation goes a long way. Especially if it involves a, now funny, story about the near deportation of an un-named Swedish tennis player.