I was one of those people who graduated high school and decided to never go back again. It’s not that I had a miserable experience there. I actually enjoyed it. But there’s something about growing up in a small town that never really fit well with my personality.
I always felt like the county lines were too constricting, like the fields were never big enough to hold all my dreams, the roads never long enough for me to catch any momentum. It was as though the horizon itself was slowly drawing me out, beyond Bulverde, to other adventures.
So away I went. Off to college in a big, bright city. Never at home during the summer. And then eventually out into the world, hardly glancing back, developing a stronger affection for living in slums instead of suburbs.
Along the way, in between the moments in the slums and jungles and underground churches and isolated villages, I occasionally remembered my roots. I remembered the mission field that I’d left behind. A mission field that was bursting with ripeness but was just too familiar for me to approach.
It wasn’t my mission field, I convinced myself. That’s a job for someone else. If I ever do return, I’ll only just be passing through.
Last week I returned to my old high school.
As soon as I rounded the curve and approached the school, nostalgia swept over me and demanded to be felt. It was irresistible.
I wandered through the familiar maze of empty hallways, past classrooms filled with students I didn’t know, retracing the steps of fifteen-year-old Emily.
The entire place echoed with old conversations.
Memories began sprouting up all around me, like little flowers poking their heads out of the soil.
That’s where Mrs. I’s classroom used to be. Remember all the times I thought she was crazy and weird and annoying? It turns out that the lessons she taught me have long outlasted the lessons I read in any textbook.
Oh, now this is the hallway where I’d always stand with C before class started. I remember one time we were standing there talking. He was going to be late to his class but swore he didn’t care because we were discussing something apparently important. What were we arguing about again? I just remember standing there, arms crossed, staring at him and feeling so confused by the conflicting emotions of a teenage girl who wondered if this boy could love her when really neither of us knew what something like that even meant.
That’s my old Physics classroom. I remember exactly which seat I used to sit in, right behind T. He always asked me about Jesus in some way or another, feigning disinterest but clearly still intrigued.
And this is the part of the school that didn’t use to be here. I remember when they first started building it. A few of us snuck into the construction site one night and we climbed up to the roof. We sat there in silence and looked out at the stars and the hills and the empty parking lot below and it was as if the whole world went quiet and sat with us and we thought about all the things that happened in those four years at that school and what it could mean about all the years that were yet to come.
Walking through those old familiar hallways, past those classrooms that bore witness to my adolescence, I realized that I wasn’t just passing through again. It wasn’t just some casual reencounter with the memories of my teenage years.
I was visiting my new mission field.
What an interesting route the Lord has marked out for me on the Map of Life. That he would take me across the world, literally as far as one can get from Texas, only to bring me back again and say, “Now, be here.”
I’m still charting out this territory, which is altogether well-known and completely undiscovered. The juxtaposition of emotions that occur is a bit inexplicable.
I may recognize those hallways, but I don’t think they recognize me. I’ve seen and learned a hell of a lot in the last few years, and now I’ve been brought all the way back to where I started, at least for a while.
But this time, I have a new song to sing.