Viewpoint – American Graffiti


I didnt begin keeping a journal until I was a 19-year-old college freshman, and a very green pastor.

Almost every day of my life since then is documented and accounted for. Mostly the highs, but occasionally the lows, too there on paper, easily referenced.

The high school years, though, have been left shrouded in the fog of unreliable memory. The mental image I have carried of that time is that I was an exceptional student, emotionally mature, popular with all of my peers, and an effective spokesman for my Christian faith.

The other day I discovered my long lost high school yearbooks from 1969, 70, 71 and 72. Re-reading all the scribbled notes from classmates and teachers and looking again at pictures of forgotten best friends (and all the memories that stirs) I got a more exact portrait of myself. It wasnt totally the way I remember.

There, in the same bundle of material were my report cards from that era. It turns out that I really wasnt that good a student. 

I remember As and Bs but there were a lot of Cs and Ds, too. I never actually failed a course in high school but, as in the case of chemistry, that may have been more due to the mercy of my teachers than to the work I did in class. It was down to the wire sometimes. I became a better student in college.

Finally, there was a cache of old love letters. At one time heavily perfumed, these epistles arrived from all over the east coast, wherever youth choir tours went. Its a little embarrassing now to read all these promises of never-ending love from girls I hardly remember. Evidently I could fall in love with someone at first glance and simultaneously with two or more others, without a trace of guilt.
Im just reading their side of the story now, of course. And I pray to God that my letters to them are not bundled and collected somewhere, but were destroyed long ago.

I wrote very bad poetry in those days, too. All of it is lost now, unless preserved and boxed in various hope chests from Brooklyn to New Jersey, to Florida.

More Rod McKuen than Shakespeare, my blank verse was overloaded with teen-aged angst and dripping with sentimentality

Looking over all this material, I do see some basic things that were true then and remain true now. Several girls mentioned my serenading them with Sinatra and Dean Martin. (My musical tastes have indeed been frozen in time).

Writing expressing my thoughts and feelings on paper has always been important. I wrote an opinion column for our school newspaper during my junior and senior years then immediately picked up with newsletter columns for the churches Ive pastored. This leaves an uninterrupted stream of published thought across over 35 years.

I made my first speech in the ninth grade, a nominating speech for an upper classman running for school office. He lost the race but I won recognition as a speaker that I later parlayed into successful campaigns of my own. Vice president and then ultimately president of the Student Body.

Privately shy, publicly out-going. Sensitive to others. Fairly self-confident but still in need of recognition and approval. A deep streak of fairness that always has me looking at every side of an argument, usually siding with the underdog.

My witness for Christ was most important to me then and was often referenced in those back-of-the-yearbook notes from friends. Most appreciated my religious convictions and gave grudging respect, but some kidded and even chided me for my zeal. (Leave your Bible at home and just live what you believe, one friend suggested).

And Ive been trying to find the right balance ever since.

Home alone last night, I spent a couple of hours catching up on my reading and the years. It was, well, quite humbling to say the least.

Therell be no more talk from me about these kids today. It is quite evident to me that I was just as hormone-driven and distracted as any current teenager. Thirty years of marriage and you forget, and get rather self-righteous about it.

Applying myself and studying in school? Thats not what my geometry teacher said on the margins of tests, in red ink.

Mature in the way I treated relationships? That eventually came but not before treating some people rather callously. Id love to talk to them now.

Time is a maniac scattering dust, Tennyson wrote.

I wish I had left some of my past encased in those dusty boxes so that I could keep it the way I remember it instead of the way it actually was. My ideas instead of reality.

Don Davidson is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Alexandria.