I was thumbing through my high school yearbook the other day when I was shocked to see a picture of a teenage boy with this goofy smile on his face. He was tall. He was skinny.
He was me.
And that's what shocked me. You see, I remember high school. Nearly 40 years have passed since the last time I slammed my high school locker shut, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember turning a garden snake loose in the teacher's lounge. I remember losing The Big Game to our cross-town rivals 28-27 after being ahead 27-7. I remember the mingled locker room smells of Brut, Right Guard, Clearasil and Ben Gay. I remember my first speech in speech class: "Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, 'Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.' And Emerson was certainly right … " I remember "I before E except after C."
But I don't remember being thin. What I do remember is looking into mirrors and seeing a chubby kid looking back at me. Never mind Mom's insistence that I was "wasting away." Forget statistical evidence indicating that I was 6-3, 170 pounds and had a 34-inch waist. And please don't tell me it was all in my mind. It was all on my body. I was fat. I could see it. Mirrors don't lie.
At least, I didn't think so. But then I saw that picture the other day — you know, the one of the thin kid that had my name under it? — and now I'm beginning to wonder. Either that photographic image has lost weight through the years (admittedly, an unlikely prospect), or else the passage of time has given me a clearer view and a broader — or in this case, narrower — perspective.
Which can only mean one thing: Mom was right. And I was — horrors! — wrong.
And if I can be so wrong about a label I put on myself, maybe I'm not qualified to put labels on other people, either. Yet I do it all the time. We all do. We cruise along through life with this view of the world and the people in it that is, in our humble opinion, true and right. And then something comes along to foul it up, like the "unsavory" political candidate who turns out to be a terrific public servant.
Or the "role model" sports hero who gets busted for spouse abuse. Or the family from a "wacko" religious group that moves in and becomes the best neighbors we've ever had.
It can be disconcerting to discover that reality is sometimes relative, and that our personal perspectives are sometimes flawed. But it can be downright dangerous to close our minds to new information that could expand our view and increase our understanding of the people with whom we share this planet. We can miss out on some wonderful opportunities for personal growth and significant relationships if we insist upon clinging to labels that have more to do with impulse and ignorance than meaningful experience. Snap judgments might work in traffic court, and permanent labels are good for cans of tuna. But neither approach works with people. Not even ourselves.
Which reminds me — our 40-year high school reunion is coming up next year, and I've got to lose some weight. The way I see it, no one will recognize me unless I'm thin.