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2003-09-11 5:57 p.m.

Ok, catching up with my life. So, Saturday. Friday felt good. Saturday felt even better.

I started the day in the Haight—people from other places call it Haight–Ashbury, but locals seem to just call it the Haight. I have lived within an hour of San Francisco my whole life, and I have lived within the city limits for just over two years now, but still I feel guilty considering myself a local. I have never experienced a sense of belonging in any city or any place, or at least not one that ever compelled me to say things like, "this city is really my home" or "I know I belong here". I feel like my home is everywhere I am. I feel like I am a local to nowhere.

Another great piece of graffiti found in the bathroom of my favorite Mexican food place, Taqueria Balazo.

But, that isn't the point. The point is that I was in the Haight—walking, eating, people–watching. I found nothing exciting to report there. Panhandlers are still annoying. Punks still have lots of piercings and beg for change even though the cost of their tattoos and leather jackets and piercings sum up to more than I paid for my car. Girls are still cute. And a warm, sunny day in San Francisco is still a rare and beautiful gem.

I had fun. I entertained myself with my thoughts. I talked with friends. It didn't feel like the real thing, though. The events of my day seemed more like the conversations, thoughts, and observations one has while waiting in line for a roller coaster on the warmest summer Saturday, the day when everyone is at the amusement park and the queue seems to stretch forever. One passes the time in anticipation, watching the clock or the line to see if they are next.

I was waiting for 5 o'clock. That was when I would hurriedly change my clothes on the side of the road and then drive an hour south, following an asphalt rainbow through the bleak, grayness of Silicon Valley to Milpitas. The pot of gold at the other end: my ten year high school reunion!

This is what the sky looked like on the way to my reunion.

I realized as I drove that I had a lot to be thankful for, even though I felt bad lately with all the new and painful challenges in my life. When I observed each moment individually, I found they all looked pretty amazing. So I started to take pictures of myself smiling and driving.

I drove and drove and took picture after picture, smiling more and more. The camera doesn't lie: this is what it looks like when life is the most challenging.

I didn't have many friends at my high school. I think I can count them on one hand. I had plenty of friends outside of my school—my music and social life was busy like a shaken bees nest. But on weekdays between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM I felt a bit like an outsider. It wasn't a bad thing. I was plenty happy with my life, and I didn't really see what I had in common with anyone I went to school with.

See, my school was 60% Mexican, 30% Asian, 4% black (a term which had not yet been supplanted by 'African–American' yet), 4% other, and 2% white. And when I say Asian and Mexican, I don't really mean Asian–American or Mexican–American. Most students were born in other countries and had only been in the US for a few years. Most were learning English for the first time. They were from the old country. Their parents were from the old country. Many had only just started accepting bits of America's culture into their lives. In many cases, it seemed that even if my schoolmates found something they had in common with me, it would be hard to communicate it, and surely their parents would have forbidden them from hanging out with the likes of me anyways. So, it worked out fine for me at age 15. They did their thing, I did mine.

So, with no ties to any of the nameless faces of my high school years, why would I want to go to my reunion?

Honestly? Because I thought it might be funny. I had this idea in my mind that everyone there would be overweight and ugly and divorced eighteen times with thirty seven children and a few more on the way. And, in the movies everyone gets really drunk at the reunion, there are 'slow dances', old flames ignite again, people sneak off into the bathrooms or wherever to have sex, and so on. I wanted to see the stuff that all those corny movies were based on.

welcome to your reunion, Mr. Winokur.

But my reunion was nothing like that. The super cute girl with short hair was still super cute, even after three kids and eight years of marriage. And, just like ten years ago we still had nothing to talk about. The girl I had the hugest crush on my senior year was still gorgeous and charming—and she turned out to be pretty bright, a needed improvement. The long, lean jocks looked great, possibly better than ever. This held true for the average–looking folks as well. They still looked average, yet with an added glow of wisdom and knowledge gained.

Susanna. Still totally hot. She used to wear pink lip gloss and she was the only girl in high school I ever almost asked out. I think I asked her once if she would go do something with me if I was to ask. She said yes, and I think just knowing that the answer was yes was enough to satiate me. I wouldn't have known what to do if we went out anyway, so it was probably for the best.

After a while I stopped placing any emphasis on the very things I came there to observe, things which I could have just assumed, such as the fact that most of my classmates were married with as many as four children. I started to be distracted by the sparkling conversations I had with the people around me, familiar faces who I had never spoken a single word to before that evening.

The guys. Can you find me in these pictures?

I explained to a a fellow alumnus named John that the girl at the other table was the first girl ever to tell me that I was cute. Nobody had ever complimented me on my looks before, and she just came up to me and said it, very matter–of–fact as if I needed to know. I held my right hand to my heart and told John that this tiny moment changed my life, and that girl probably doesn't even remember it.

I then told a story about Ruben Mendoza. He was a year older than me, kind, soft–spoken, great looking, intelligent, and a dizzying guitar player. I looked up to him because he was just about everything I wanted to be. One day—I think I was a sophomore—I was walking between buildings and Ruben stopped me and said my name.

"Justin. Why are you looking at the ground when you walk? Why are you slouching?"

I shrugged. I didn't know why, I admitted.

"Don't ever do that again. You have so much to be proud of. You should stand up straight when you walk and hold your head tall and look people in the eye. And smile."

And he walked away, forever changing me with a gesture which for him was surely effortless and not–remembered.

The amazing thing about moments, I explained to John, was that we can have a moment with someone else and that other person might not even be aware of it. For this reason we must never underestimate the startling power we have to affect the lives we come in contact with.

Justin and John.

John laughed at this and admitted that he had a moment like that from high school, one that the other person surely doesn't remember. He laughed again, a laugh implying foreshadowed. He explained: the moment was with me. He had been having a difficult day and was being overdramatic. He was angry and lashing out and saying things he didn't mean and stomping through the covered cement halls like a bull. He collided with me, half on purpose and looking to start some trouble. I was walking from one place to another, minding my own business—that is what I always did in those days, walked briskly from one place to another, minding my business, only my business, and nothing but my business. From how he explained it, it seemed he half–wanted to crash my party.

He continued: I apologized profusely when he ran into me, telling him that I was very sorry and asking him to please excuse me. Then I smiled and kept walking.

"Justin, it's funny, but that is how I remember you. And, I have talked with my wife about this many times. Whenever we get to talking about high school your name comes up, and to me you will always be this nice person who would just never, ever get angry."

I was honored to be a part of that moment, and I held my hand to my chest again, my body warmed by his words and the reminder of a memory I never had.

Only 3% of our graduating class of 455 showed up. This is us.

— The night was full of other moments of connection and lore. One man whose face I remembered but whose name I never knew told me about a miracle he had experienced. As he explained it he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got shot in the back. And he died. And he saw the light. And he went to the place he called heaven and talked to the one he called God. And God told him that it was not his time. And at that moment the defibrillator finally worked, starting his heart again, reviving him from death. And he awoke—a modern–day Lazarus among us.

He felt so moved by this miracle that he has decided to devote his life to writing and singing and recording songs about this miracle and the love of God. He never sang or wrote a song in his life before that day.

It doesn't matter whether you believe in God or god or whatever anyone calls her or him or it these days. God or god, no God or no god. This guy died. His heart stopped. He was pronounced dead. And he came back to life. And the magic of that moment compelled him to focus his entire life on singing songs of joy and thankfulness and telling the world about the miraculous love he experienced. Rose from the dead. Dedicated his life to singing. Wants only to share his miracle with others for the rest of his life. If you ask me, that sounds like more than one miracle.

The reunion ended gently, more like a heron landing than a jumbo jet bouncing on the tarmac. There was a last song and a group hug and a few speeches and goodbyes. I felt lucky that I also got to experience the tiniest taste of that rare miracle called second chance, because I never appreciated or connected any of the people I went to high school with when I had my first chance.

I am excited to see what other miracles will come my way in the days to come.