Saturday, May 25, 2013

Commencement

In my college town life is sleepy.  Many students - 40,000 of them in all - have departed.  Some have just graduated and will never return.  I drive by as they are stuffing their parents' cars, or their own, with the motley belongings that stamp them as students.  I study all the license plates  - Georgia, Colorado, Vermont - and feel a bit wistful.  I am not passing through.  I am not leaving.  Roots and shoots twine through and around me, root and shoots binding me to this place for the foreseeable future.

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.

6 comments:

Tanis Miller said...

This was so beautiful. And so true. I remember the moment when I walked into my parents' house after being gone for so long. And realizing it all felt too small, too dingy. And now I realize my daughter (and my son) will all too soon, be walking into my home and feeling the same way. Ah. Youth. How I remember it fondly.

V-Grrrl said...

The hard part about this stage of life is that it is all about celebrating other people's beginnings and not having any to celebrate for yourself.

Sometimes I feel strangely empty--like I've poured out the best of myself and what's left is just something to swirl around in the bottom of the bottle.

JCK said...

You weave beauty and pain within your words. It always moves me. Some days are harder than others dealing with the middle years.

alejna said...

It's so interesting to read your perspective on the reunion thing. Especailly as someone who somewhat inadvertantly attended my own 20th reunion. (I live so close to my/our old college town that I didn't have to plan, and didn't register, but I wanted to see some good friends who came for the reunion.)

For me, there wasn't such a hard line drawn between college life and life after college. I had no real home to return to, stayed in the same city as the college for another 2 years, eventually only moved about 45 minutes away, and married someone from college. I can't tell whether my memories of college have dimmed due to my frequent re-exposure. So many of my memories have dimmed! But I must say that seeing some people at the reunion brought memories rushing back. Not always in a good way! Ugh.

(I also find myself feeling somewhat selfishly disappointed that you won't be in my neck of the woods this time next year. But maybe I can get to see you anyhow, and without all the baggage of reunion. Hmm?)

Kate Rivera said...

I have very similar feelings at weddings and graduation, "these people have no idea what is ahead for them". That is their momentary bliss. Would we have done differently had we seen what was ahead? Probably not. I am enjoying the hard earned perspective of my 50s. If my three can be more and do more than their father and I,I will feel a measure of success. With a constantly changing battle plan it's hard to know when the war is won.

Christine said...

I have such mixed feeling when the students in my collage town leave....excitement, nostalgia, longing. I feel like those days were mere seconds ago for me, but at the same time I feel so old, so tired. Sad even.