There are moments from our pasts that we’d all likely prefer to have go differently.
Especially during high school.
I went back to my hometown for the Thanksgiving holiday, and it was nice to be able to see my family and some of my best friends. I kept pretty busy for the few days I was there, but it was all with fun little adventures of spending time with my people.
One of those adventures was with Maddie, my forever friend I’ve known since we were 3 years old. The weather was really nice out, so we went for a walk at a local park. We dance walked (it’s a thing) a bit, and as we were passing by a road that has our former high school on the other side, Maddie asked me if I had been there anytime recently. I definitely hadn’t, and she thought it might be a wise idea to venture over there and check it out—after all, there is now a supposedly impressive arena near the old gym.
I typically don’t pass up an opportunity to explore, so we crossed the bridge and walked on the short path through the wannabe woods area and then cut through the parking lot. We started trying to open every side door, only to discover they were all locked. We headed to another set of doors, and then we found one that appeared to have been accidentally left slightly cracked, and we took it as an open invitation.
It was really weird being back in there. We snuck under a gate that was partially open and ignored what sounded like an alarm going off in the background. We wandered the halls and reminisced a little about those days of way back when. The halls felt a lot smaller than they did when we were teenagers. The school didn’t look exactly the same as we had left it—I mean, there are comfy lounge chairs, sofas, and small tables lining the halls so that students can find rest and peace and probably do important stuff on their phones and iPads between classes—but it didn’t seem like too much had changed.
Except for us.
I began thinking about the person I was back then and who I am now. It’s been more than 14 years since I graduated (good grief, I am getting so old), and more has happened in my life than I ever would have imagined when I was in those dramatic years of adolescence. There are so many things I wish I could tell teenage Natalie, but maybe it’s for the best that I wasn’t able to know what I know now—maybe it’s better to learn those lessons as you go, as painful as they may be.
Sure, I wish I had been much braver in high school when it came to letting guys know how I felt, but I was a complete pansy who would rather dodge into a science classroom to hide from an approaching crush than to have to face him in an empty hallway. I think that was something I had to discover over the years, though—that I am actually capable of being brave enough to do the thing that I had always feared most in life (besides amphibian hoppers).
To look a man in the eyes and declare my feelings for him.
There are probably too many moments in my life I’d like to go back to and change what I did or what I said. But I can’t. I’ll never be able to, and it becomes a waste of time to think about everything I would have done differently. “If Only” is a great song by Hanson, but it’s not a mindset by which I want to live my life.
What I can do, though, is learn from those times I wish I could change by being brave in those scary situations I face later and making that high school girl proud of the woman she became. Rather than run and hide from my feelings and from the guys for whom I have them, I can follow my heart and say the words it wants to say. Rather than letting the possibility of rejection give me anxiety, I can let love lead the way (I didn’t mean to rhyme there). Rather than be fearful, I can be bold.
And you can be bold, too. We all can.
I’m really grateful I’m not in high school anymore, and I’m glad I’m not exactly the same as I was back then. Life is full of changes, and many of those changes occur within our hearts—and that’s a good thing. My love for love has definitely grown since those days, and I’ve had my fair share of heartache and pain that resulted from following my motto of “be brave.” As much as I hate broken hearts, I don’t regret sharing my heart only to have it shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.
Because love is worth every single scary moment you will ever have to face.