This is my first pass. I am not very happy with it. It has a few slow spots and awkward transitions. Keeping it under 500 words is tough.
On a sultry Southern California day, I made my first foray into my high school campus in almost 20 years while in the area. As expected, the stroll through the tree lined thoroughfare triggered a flood of memories of my formative years here which started shortly after my family’s arrival in America.
The surrounding area and the campus had been fully developed back then, so very little of the landscape had changed, which made the flashbacks a little too graphic for comfort. My time warp stroll eventually brought me to “the Grove.”
The Grove was the hangout for the most popular kids known as “Grovies,” most of whom were from some of the wealthiest areas in the city, and possibly in the country. The jocks brandishing their biceps, the girls flirting incessantly, and everyone glowing with a radiant smile made the place resemble a scene from a teenage romance movie.
The hangout was a source of both resentment and envy among the outsiders. I initially felt the latter more than the former as a kid determined to fit in by leaving my immigrant subculture and assimilating into the mainstream. But it soon became clear that I would never be accepted into the exclusive clique and resentment replaced envy.
But the quest to fit in continued in my post high school years. In college social groups and even in church settings, I secretly desired to be seen with the most popular and liked. I also found myself fending off overtures from those who didn’t seem as desirable. It was subtle, yet persistent. Some people just weren't cool enough to be seen with.
But slowly, as a Christian, I became mindful of Jesus’ preference for the rejects of society. Most of his friends were among “the least of these.” They were the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and other notorious sinners ignored and ostracized by society and the religious establishment.
Eventually I became appalled by what I saw in my heart, trapped by the same vanity which I despised and saw in the Grovies. I was no different from them even though I should have known better.
This wasn’t a drastic revelation which changed my life overnight. I did not pursue a new career as the next Mother Teresa living among the poorest of the poor. It has been a slow process in which I have learned to reach out to people I come across in life regardless of their status in the social hierarchy and to do what Jesus would do.
The “Grove” was where my quest to fit in began. It took a few unexpected turns along the way and eventually transformed into a story of redemption. Almost twenty years later, I was back, no longer imprisoned by the same quest but liberated to forge my own identity as a free man. Perhaps as a result of the transformation, some people may have benefited, but I can humbly say that I am the primary beneficiary of my changed outlook.