I was Mrs. Mitnik

In my senior year of high school, I was Mrs. Mitnik - Rose Mitnik's mother - and Rose was the love interest of Hyman, in The Education of Hyman Kaplan. Since Mrs. Mitnik was not in a lot of the scenes, I also watched this play, from backstage, through a peephole in the set. The year before, I'd watched all of the several performances of the The Diary of Anne Frank that way - through a peephole in the set.

I thought about these peepholes today because I stumbled into yet another person's narrative of those high school days. In recent months, I've had the chance to gather up a lot of these sorts of tales, as a bunch of us have gotten together after more than three decades of our own lives, far, far from high school.

If you watch your play through a peephole (and we all do), then you only have a view of certain things. You can see a lot of the set. You can watch the play. If you're Mrs. Mitnik, made to look older by way of makeup, but already sounding older by way of personality quirks and natural bent, and much much more believable as the mother of the prettiest girl in the class than you would ever have been as the desirable Rose Mitnik, then you also go out onto the stage for brief periods, and you see the play from the sewing table. You have your lines. You say (and you roll your r's), "Rosala, Rosala, you live mit a man a thousand years, you think you know him?" And then you burst into an impassioned song about the meaning of love (because you're 17, and passion is all you've got to put into the role), and you leave the stage again, to watch through your peephole.

And that pretty much sums up high school.

Limited viewpoints. Moments in the spotlight. Separated from all the other viewpoints by means of sets and makeup and lights and even by an audience that can't take their eyes off the drama in the center of the stage. I think we all felt a bit like we were the only ones at our peepholes - and that, too, is the nature of high school and youth.

But then the lights come up. The audience claps and stands and stuffs the playbills into their pockets and exits into the parking lot and drives away, and so does the cast and crew. We grew up. We all went and did stuff, and knew people, and couldn't believe life could be like this. I suppose a part of me will always be Mrs. Mitnik. Rose is still the prettiest girl in the class. And now I don't need a makeup pencil to make me look older (although ... how old was I supposed to be in that play, anyway? If I remember right, I looked about 70!)

This is the year my high school class turns fifty. And one of us got the bright idea that we could start talking to each other again. Thanks to modern technology, that's just what we're doing. After work, around kids and obligations ... but also around projects and creativity and adventure - and service, as well. I went to high school with some really nice people, who, despite some bad stuff that was happening behind the stage sets, turned into loving, caring, educated, useful, and happy grownups with good lives.

The play was good back then. We did our best. We loved each other, too. It's good to know, after all these years, that that part wasn't just drama. The people I loved loved me too. (Thanks, Fearless Leader. It's a real gift you've given us. And happy birthday!)

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