As we get older, it seems that we have a tendency to reminisce more often. The other night, as I was drifting off to the sanctuary of sleep; my mind was reeling. In that gray zone of near-slumber, our random thoughts can lead us to unexpected places. In my case, I clearly remembered being called into my cavernous elementary school gymnasium for the dreaded “class picture!”
I was unusually tall for a first grader; now I am unusually tall for an adult. That meant that I was always situated in the back row of children, somewhere near the middle. The photographer was invariably attempting to build a sense of symmetry within the group. I did not mind being led to the top riser and being showcased near the center. What irritated me, however, was the fact that there was always at least one girl next to me and she was a good inch taller than me. I often wonder how their careers in the WNBA went.
In my near-dormant mind’s eye, I could visualize the results of that class picture. Forget the fact that I have not seen that photograph in over a decade; it is firmly etched in my brain! I was wearing a plaid lumberjack-style shirt, which was a true fashion statement in the mid-1960’s. One of the cuffs on my jeans was tucked in a boot and the other was sticking out. I am pretty sure the front of my shirt was carelessly half-tucked in as well. Mercifully, those fashion blunders did not show up in the final picture.
What did show up, captured on film for historical posterity was my persistent cowlick. Being raised in a military family, and going to school on base; your hair was worn “high and tight!” Unfortunately the military barbers were not overly concerned with the results of their quick work. I always managed to have a shock of hair sticking straight up on the back of my head. Then there was the fact that the class picture was never taken at the start of the day; where there was some hope of looking the way you did when Mom took you to the school bus stop. No, your face was coated in sweat, your clothes were wrinkled, and you hair looked like a ferret’s nest!
As we would stand in line behind one of the other classes, my chums and I would chatter away. All of us were going to be astronauts someday. I had a rather unique twist on my career ambitions. First I would make the game winning catch in the Super Bowl and then I would be whisked away to command the first manned mission to Mars! Along the way, my wife, who happened to be a former Miss America and the current President’s daughter, would tearfully ask me not to make the perilous journey!
I often wonder what happened to my fellow classmates. Envisioning the class photo in my mind gives no hint as to where their individual destinies took them. Did any of them end up being astronauts or beauty pageant winners? Did they look forward to broken marriages, custody battles, failed careers, addictions, and homelessness? Did they have any concept of what adult reality was really all about?
Each of us has had more than our fair share of challenges in life. It is what molds us. We are the result of the experiences that we have been forced to confront. The question that must be posed to each of us is, “will we allow our failures to dictate who we are in the future?” Or will we return to that wonderful enchanted kingdom called adolescence and try again? Fate can be cruel, destiny can be unfair; but choice is the great liberator.
I never left Earth’s atmosphere, I never donned an NFL uniform, and I did not marry Miss America. On the plus side, I was fortunate to learn some valuable lessons along the way. The foremost of these is that I can reclaim the innocence and enthusiasm of my childhood whenever I choose to! Care to sign my yearbook?