Once upon a time, without any warning, I never went back home from summer vacation, and was placed at the very last minute as an international student at an American boarding school. It was a rough first year, but sometime along the way I lost my accented English, found a circle of friends, and came to regard the school as a second home. By senior year I’d achieved many of the things members of the community were encouraged to achieve, and I felt truly fortunate to have spent four years in a paradise where camping and horseback riding were on the curriculum.
But a very peculiar thing started happening to those wonderful memories in subsequent years. I noticed my fondness for the school started to wane even as my friends continued to regard it with unalloyed joy. I could never quite put a finger on why, but I eventually chose to unsubscribe from school mailings because the very thought of it would trigger a strange sadness and anger in me. Whenever my friends would wax nostalgic, I bit my tongue so as not to burst their bubble. I even envied their uncomplicated relationship with the school and its faculty.
A few days ago, a friend alerted me to an IG account for BIPOC students and alumni, and I read through every single post and comment in one sleepless night. In certain respects, it was a relief to learn I wasn’t alone. I kept my complaints silent for decades and blamed myself for not being a cultural fit, for being too shy or weird, or even not athletic enough. Yet, here I was reading perspectives and experiences that resonated so strongly. Something was and is so very wrong in the school, and it wasn’t me.
I’ve spent the last few days revisiting some very old stuff, and mourning the loss of the illusion all over again, but this time with friends. It‘s not been easy. I‘ve noticed I’m only half present for conversations with my husband. I wander around the kitchen forgetting what it is I’m supposed to be doing. I‘ve been picking out massive amounts of hair from my hairbrush, which is one of my body’s tells. I haven’t been this stressed since grad school.
I’m still trying to find my way back to center with questions unanswered on so many levels: personal, institutional, social, and national. This is not specific to my school, but a sign of the times. And while the golden memories of my boarding school days are irretrievably gone, what remains are the friendships that have lasted decades, through life’s many challenges.
It has been quite a year already and 2020 is nowhere near done with us yet. As the illusions fall away, as the ugliness rises to the surface, may we have the sense and grace to discern the truth, goodness, and beauty that remain. May what is true, good, and beautiful guide and inspire us in right thought and action.