Ten months from now I will open the mailbox and find an invitation to my 25th college reunion. It doesn't seem possible, and yet it does. I have spent the majority of the years I've been alive as a college graduate, not an undergraduate, not a teen, not a child. Doesn't seem possible, and yet it does, and is.
I will not attend my reunion. This is not out of fear or shame. No, I am not a cancer researcher, or a humanitarian, or even a published writer. But I've lived honorably, and I like to believe that the children with whom I work benefit, if intangibly, from my presence. I will not attend my reunion because I prefer to remember my university years as they were, untainted by time and age, growth and change.
I remember my first trip back to my childhood home after having spent a semester in college. I walked into the foyer, dropped my bags, and stood stunned, blinking. Everything looked smaller, drab and colorless - even my mother appeared frail and old, diminished by one autumn. Had I drunk one of Alice's potions? Worse, I couldn't tell what was real and what was not. Was this the reality, then, and childhood had blinded me to it, or had three months spent at university corrupted my vision so thoroughly?
Attending a reunion would be no different from that moment in 1985 when I released my grip on my luggage and looked around, dazed and dismayed by a three-bedroom apartment that had somehow become my mother's, not mine, even if I still claimed one of those three bedrooms. My memories of college remain bright, colorful, detailed, and time has not yet managed to dim them, precisely because I have not returned. You can't go home again, wrote Thomas Wolfe, who wasn't wrong.
If I envy these newly minted college graduates driving away from my small town with nary a glance behind them, it is because for them May is a month of endings and beginnings, whereas for me it is just another month in the long season of my middle years.
Still, I am grateful for the shoots that grow up and out from me, as well as around me, and keep me grounded. I feel privileged to observe them as they bloom, and to witness them celebrating their own commencements: the thrill and energy in all those beginnings, but especially in endings joyful mainly because they aren't really endings at all.