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The kids are still all right...

Posted: July 12, 2012 4:54 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2012 5:00 a.m.

So I recently took a short trip back in time.

Didn’t even have to use a hot tub -- just walked a worn flight of 187-year-old stairs.

Fortunately, the destination wasn’t too far into the past. In fact, I think it was just yesterday afternoon -- you know, somewhere around the spring of 1982, when some 350 cap-and-gown clad kids walked across a stage in a football stadium in Camden, South Carolina.

As we enter the Robert Mills Courthouse, I’m immediately hit by this all-enveloping, easy-going vibe we of the Camden High School Class of 1982 have always shared. We may not have seen each other in awhile, we may not have kept up with every single milestone, but we are glad to see each other and we miss those who aren’t here tonight. I’m sure I could run into any of these folks, anytime, anywhere on this planet and instantly get that same vibe.

That’s just the way we roll. Always have.

I’ve been told ours was the first racially integrated class in Kershaw County, maybe South Carolina, to go through all 12 grades together. An interesting milestone if true, but I don’t know that we really thought about it at the time. I think we were just a group of kids who found ourselves together in this thing called “school” and we bonded accordingly.

Not just got along. Bonded. Forged friendships. Shared a common experience.

Now don’t get me wrong -- I’m not so old and sentimental as to think we were perfect -- we weren’t.  Our world wasn’t some concoction of Valium smiles and rainbow stew. Along the way there were words and fights, cliques and snubs, the occasional insensitive joke or random act of cruelty -- all of which are part of growing up anywhere.

But I also recall there was far more good than bad throughout that journey. There’s something special, something forged within the experiences shared through those years, that is part of who we are today. It lights us up; it makes us better people to each other and to ourselves.

I can’t give it a name, but whatever it is, it’s strong.

Funny, none of us looked like we were 30 years out of the starting gate, either, at least not that night. For one, I think we were doing our best to give all the breweries in Milwaukee and all the wineries in California a pretty good run on their available stocks. And judging by activity on the dance floor, I don’t think anyone felt either the years or the suds, at least not until the morning after -- and maybe the morning after that one, too.

For a few delightful hours, we were those kids in the yearbook again – thankfully without the 100-mile-an-hour hairstyles and other such sartorial sins we so proudly committed during the ’80s -- bright-eyed, eager to take on the future, pleased with where we had been and confident of where we were going.

After a little while, though, you get a glimpse of what the years have brought to different people.  We all have our sacks of rocks to carry, as my grandfather used to say, but I daresay some of us have carried heavier loads than others. Certainly any adversity I have faced in my life absolutely disintegrates compared to that of so many others.

We’ve also lost some folks along the way, each one missed, each one yet another poignant reminder that life, as the late great Lewis Grizzard once said, “ain’t no dress rehearsal.”

I forget who said life is a series of circles but I agree; life definitely isn’t a straight line. It’s not even a destination. It’s more of an unfolding story with a plot we can’t ever quite nail down. Life eludes and teases, doubles back and pounces. Sometimes it delights; sometime it devastates.

Or to put it in classic T-shirt-and-bumper sticker vernacular, some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.

Yet above all else, life -- and all with whom we share it -- is precious and must be celebrated. Nothing illustrates that to me quite as clearly as moments like those few hours last Saturday night.

Did those kids in the yearbook even think about stuff like that back in the day?

I doubt it. At 17, I was thinking about how I was going to pay for Sun Fun, not Sun City.

Does age really bring wisdom?

My first thought as I take a gander at the dance floor is: Great Googly Moogly, No!

But further reflection quickly reveals, indeed demands just the opposite.

Dance! Laugh! Go crazy! Revel and revere! Celebrate! By God, rock it as hard as you can!

Oh yeah, we get it.

No doubt about it -- the kids are still all right.

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