Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bright College Years Revisited: Reflections on a 50th Reunion

The poignant ache of college reunions wants to speak itself into words, but has trouble finding them.

Why did I find it so touching that my freshman roommate’s girlfriend, now his wife of many years, blurted out that she “secretly loved me” because I was “so nice”? Her husband, who was a preppy fresh out private school confinement, gave every semblance of a wild man in our first-year suite (including bouncing a lacrosse ball against the bedroom wall at midnight while I was trying to sleep). But he's been nothing but warm, welcoming, apologetic, and friendly at the two reunions I’ve seen him.

Why do such things mean so much, all these years later, when we have had hardly anything to do with each other in the years between these two sightings?

This 50th reunion was almost as good as the 25th, which was the first I attended — good because, like the 25th, it had so little evidence of one-upping, status strutting, and other ego-flashing. Twenty-five years ago we were all deep in mid-life, and now we were men (not co-ed in our day) in our early 70s with the bulk of our careers behind us, facing into the common challenges of living our humanity for the last phase of our lives. Mostly in good health, we are still aware of our vulnerability and, more importantly the preciousness of life.  So seeing once-close friends again, some perhaps for the last time, was good.

But what’s the ache, no the yearning, that, at least for me, makes otherwise trivial conversations, and late evening conversations about weighty subjects so very important?

As I left my lengthy talk with Rick about the Civil War, and war itself, and picked up a final club soda from the young Yalie staffing the bar, I did a very older man thing. As we chatted pleasantly about his own college career, I said to him, “I keep wanting to say to all of you, ‘Where we are now, you will be eventually.’ I remember roaming this campus after graduation and seeing the older grads back for reunion, including the 50-year-out men, and finding it so incredible that I would eventually be one of them. And here I am now, one of them.

“I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s so important about these meetings and conversations with people I only see at reunion. Seeing you standing here makes me realize that we’re all, to one degree or another, trying to catch some of the fire that burned in us when we were young and being so deeply shaped by what we were learning, and more deeply by each other as we discussed, debated, argued and laughed our way through these four years.  College was the very crux of our young adult formation; these years set us on our paths. We meant so much to each other then, and we so very much want to capture the exciting, protean, possibility-filled elan of that time. However glad we may be to be past our youth, we ache for the fire of it, which we see in all of you staffing the Reunion. I hope you cherish this time, even though the Yale song isn’t really true: these are not ‘the brightest, gladdest years of life.’ But they can point you toward them.”

I’m glad I went, just this one last time. Or maybe the last time it isn’t.....

No comments:

Post a Comment