Fifteen Years

James Prashant Fonseka
6 min readMay 6, 2023

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This evening I will be attending my fifteen year high school reunion. That fifteen years has passed since my high school graduation is more or less incomprehensible to me. I was seventeen when I graduated high school. I’ve nearly doubled the length of my life since, and I while I understand that conceptually, I am presently unable to fully feel that. On one hand, I don’t want so much time to have passed.

I remember going to my five year high school reunion and speaking to an older alum who told me that at the five year people talked about what they wanted to be, full of ambition and hope. By the ten, those people have mostly grown weary. Having gone to an all boy’s high school, by the ten many are also starting to lose their hair. He said, by the fifteen, that’s when people begin to accept what their life will actually be, and have mostly lost their hair. On one front, I’m lucky. I still have most of my hair, with luscious long locks, though I concede my hair is thinning a bit. As for the rest, life has gone as I was warned. We have no excuses, only acceptance.

If anyone was set up well to prosper in this world, it was my high school peers at St. Albans. Our school was more or less the epitome of what we today refer to as priviliege. I went to an all male and predominantly white, wealthy, pedigreed school with a student body that was composed almost entirely of students who were gifted, if not academically, at least artistically or athletically, while may were two of these, or all. I didn’t fully fit the bill as I was neither white not wealthy, and while I greatly value fitness and love working out, I’m far from sporting man. But I did obviously have academic gifts, and my school helped tremendously to cultivate those in a way that few schools of that era could have. St. Albans granted me a healthy dose of the privilege of my peers, and I’m grateful for that. They set me up well. Yet, here I am.

By any reasonable measure I have been tremendously successful. But, my dreams and ambitions were lofty and I am nowhere near realizing them. At fifteen years, reality is setting in. I can’t and won’t have it all. That may seem obvious to most, but it’s a daring admission to myself. Trying to have it all is impossible, and pursuing the impossible is a fruitless and perpetually frustrating endeavor. I don’t want to be frustrated. I don’t need it all. I don’t even want it all, anymore. And I never should have. But thus is the trap of proximity to society’s peaks. Most of us fell into it.

I’m feeling a bit shy to face my high school pers. My career has been sideways for a while, marked recently only by a poignant failure. While the scales have finally tipped towards most getting or being married, and now having kids, I haven’t been in a relationship for nearly ten years. My classmates are buying houses I can’t even remotely afford and living lives I can’t even conceive of for at least another decade. It is true that we each have our own path. Perhaps I don’t want any of those that, the house, the partner, the kids. Perhaps my true calling is to be a venture entrepreneurial mystic, charming my way along a winding, twisting road that eventually leads to impact, prosperity, love, and abundance. There’s just one problem with that.

I don’t think that any of that is what I want, or have been wanting. I think what I wanted is actually what most of my peers are now moving towards. I just haven’t been able to get any of it due to internal concrete blocks cast by early trauma. I find myself getting stuck in the mud any time I try to turn. I haven’t chosen this life I’m living, but rather stumbled into it. It’s not a bad life, so now that I’m here, perhaps I should just choose it and put at least one existential concern to bed. That is yet to be seen.

I didn’t necessarily love high school. I was one of a handful of students who joined a freshman and I never broke into any of the cliquey social circles. I kept my head down and grew my hair long in quiet rebellion. I felt like an outsider and was envious of the wealth and lifestyles of some of my peers. I hated being dropped at school in our beat up all car which mismatching colored panels. I dreamed that one day, I would come back to a reunion like today’s and impress everyone. I’d be so successful or well known that everyone would finally notice me, and like me, and want to be my friend. They’d tell their friends above how they went to high school me. Maybe, they’d even exaggerate how well they knew me. It’s bizarre now to think that this is I wanted.

The truth is, I was judging myself far more than others were judging me. My peers were actually fairly nice people. For all their privilege, many have had similar struggles. We all suffered from the beast of high expectations. The pristine looking family lives of many chauffeured to school were thin veils for extreme dysfunction. As I’ve met high school classmates over the years, mostly serendipitously as I actively keep in touch with almost none, I’ve learned story after story about how much so many of them suffering in high school and have been picking up the pieces ever since. As an one example, of my class of about 80 boys, no fewer than a dozen have come out as gay.

Only one came out during high school, surprising many and shocking a few as he was a chorister and member of the vestry who revealed his sexuality publicly in chapel. Today, he is a prominent Episcopal priest. There were a few more that were gay and didn’t try to hide it, but wouldn’t necessarily say they were. The others were deeply closeted, often going out of their way to come across as hypermasculine alpha bros. I thought some of them were jackasses. Since then, I’ve gotten to know a few better, and learned that jackassery was really a front for hiding a deep truth they were mortified to reveal in what was and still is a very conservative environment. Others, including including myself, were dealing with difficult family issues they shared with either no one, or almost no one. As such, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn, many of us now have similar aims in life.

I randomly ran into a classmate just a couple weeks ago in Austin who I didn’t know so well in high school, but the novelty of running into each other was sufficient to justify catching up over a drink. I began to ramble, as I often do, about my growing interest in spirituality and serving the growing population of the spiritual but not religious in the context of late stage capitalism and social changes that will eventually result from total automation. This acquaintance that I would now call a friend proceeded to pull out his one pager on what he’s pursuing in life, which is basically the secular pursuit of spiritually rooted in practice and rituals which could include psychedelics and others types of ritual. He then pulled up a pitch deck he’s been helping a friend with, another high school classmate who I remember only as a lax bro, that went into detailing documenting the growth of the segment of spiritual but not religious people in the United States. I was floored.

I didn’t think that anyone else cared about this stuff, and perhaps the last people I would have expected to would have been the people I attended high school with. Yet here we are. Fifteen years later, I’m sensing we have far more in common than I may have thought. Perhaps I’m not as different from them all as I thought I was when were in school together.

I come to this reunion today not with some impressive career by our school’s standards, or a fancy car, or a striking partner. I have nothing to show off. I don’t have kids to report, or a new house, or really any material updates from five years ago besides some travel and bouncing around geographically. What I bring, instead, is a dose of humility and some softness. I hold a gentle recognition of my gifts and fortunes and come with a tender, open heart towards these peers. While I didn’t know most very well, I sense moreso now that we are all fellow travelers.

What is wish for all us now is not success. When I heard about the inevitable stage of acceptance some ten odd years ago, it sounded bad, like failure. I see now that my assessment was wrong. Now, I think acceptance is good, and wish for it for us all.

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