Contrary to a popular misconception, I was not a Winslow Squirrel. I have never been a Winslow Squirrel and no one in my family has ever been a Winslow Squirrel. I was a Greenland Pirate.
For those of you outside of Northwest Arkansas, Winslow is a town very close to my family homestead. I was baptized at the Winslow Church of Christ on Highway 71. I preached my first sermon there. It has been suggested therefore that I am a Winslow Squirrel because, believe it or not, Winslow High School's mascot is the Squirrel. Although there was a period of time in which they were known as the "Killer Squirrels" and they sported a painting of a rabid, fang-toothed squirrel on their gym wall. This was never an official mascot and besides the point is moot because I was a Greenland Pirate.
I graduated from Greenland High School at some point in the 1980's. It was after my cousins and before my sister. There were forty in my graduating class. I knew all of the students in my class and most of those in the classes before me and after. It has been nearly twenty years since I returned to Greenland and unfortunately I missed my ten year reunion. Yesterday was significant because I returned to the alma mater. I was invited to speak to the 5th - 8th grade classes on the occasion of the 8th grader's transition from middle school to high school. The experience has left me feeling just so very mortal.
I arrived early, so I walked down the hall and looked at the familiar class portraits of every graduating class since 1948. When I was a student at GHS, I used to look at these photos often. Occasionally I would look for some adult that I knew to see what they looked like at age 17. It was also good for a smile to notice the goofy hairdos, glasses, formal wear and make-up from the past and to follow how they changed over time. The pictures were just as I remembered them. As I paced along the decades I saw old familiar faces that I knew only as photos of the past. The only difference this time is that one of the faces I saw was mine. There in that cloud of Pirate witnesses saying "Carpe Diem" was Chris Benjamin in the silver cloud tuxedo loaned by the photographer. I had become a face from the past with my own goofy hairdo and tuxedo.
I was especially blessed to see some of my old classmates. No pun intended, but yes they are older. The truth is that they are younger than me and they look great, but they are not the 15, 16 and 17-year-olds I remember. I suppose when you grow old with someone you watch the changes happen gradually. The last time I saw these old friends was about 20 years ago so I had to decode the changes in appearance and voice immediately. It was like the before and after images on a make-over show - "Hey, that's you!" Don't get me wrong, these people look great and they really are young. The "before-and-after shock" I felt was more of an awareness of how different I must look to people who last saw me 20 years ago. It just makes you feel "mortal."
Perhaps strangely to some, I feel pretty good about it all. Perhaps the day will come that I feel bad about growing old and I may even develop contempt toward the younger generation. I really hope not. I do not want to be a generational or demographic stereotype. I tried not to be one when I was 18 and I do not want to conform when I am 81. Also, I have never been able to put my finger on one particular period of my life and say, "There! Those were the good days."
The 8th-graders chose Green Day's "The Time of Your Life" as their theme song. It sounds like a sentimental title, but I cannot help but wonder if they are being slightly subversive and saying "Good Riddance," which is the actual title of the song. That's the sort of thing I would have done in 8th grade. I really hope they chose the song for shallow reasons. I hope it was because they thought the music is sort of sweet or because they heard it played on Smallville and all the girls think Tom Welling is cute. I hope that because 8th grade is just way to early a time in someone's life to say that that was the time of one's life. After all, they have four more years until they get to add their goofy photos to the GHS "Walk of Fame." Carpe Diem!