Alma Matters

As I slept last Sunday night, someone from my high school class died in his parents' driveway.

I didn't learn of it for a couple of days, and when I did it wasn't through Facebook or Twitter but rather secondhand whispers, the way news used to travel through the hallways. "Did you hear..."

I barely knew the guy, but when the details of his arrangements came through, I briefly considered putting in an appearance. I've skipped at least two class reunions and more than a dozen years of football games, charity auctions, and trivia nights, but given my disposition toward high school, a funeral seemed like a wholly appropriate venue for a homecoming.

As I write this I am burning through House of Cards on Netflix. It's not the most relatable show (thankfully), but there's a scene in a midseason episode that felt especially potent. Morally questionable congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) returns to his alma mater and reconnects with his college circle of friends for a night of campus revelry. Plied with plenty of Maker's Mark, Frank asks one of them: 

Do you think this place made us? When I walked on campus today I wondered, did it mean anything? Was it just a place we spent four years of our lives or was it more?

Prior to this point in the series we haven't seen much reflection in Frank, or much uncertainty. But sitting here in the dark, removed from his day-to-day world, he's confronted with his own need for reassurance that it all mattered. 

I sometimes find myself in a similar state — not often, and not for very long — fleeting thoughts in the dark that drift further back than Frank's, back to high school — and unlike Frank, I want to believe those four years didn’t mean anything.

Despite distance and time, the thought of high school can still rouse frustrations unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Such feelings are absurd, but significant. I didn’t attend the funeral.

Sometimes I wish I could put those feelings in the ground right next to the kid they buried last week, but I can’t, and that's good. I don’t have to wonder if high school mattered. My unsettled thoughts about the experience assure me it did; more importantly, they remind me to do everything I can to ensure that whatever happens next matters even more.