I should be sleeping. Maybe I am, and this is a sleepwalk, this wide-awake half-dream I'm in, back in my own adult life, reflecting on returning to a place I spent 4 years of my youth. I am certainly sleep-deprived and, admittedly, still a bit hungover (thanks to Liz Garland's reprovement at about midnight that I was way too sober for a 20th college reunion, as she led me to the large bottle of Cuervo). But the haze is worth the price of admission for the past few days of tripping and stumbling down memory lane.
Reunions have the capacity to make anyone shrivel into a ball of self-doubt, no matter how much false bravado worn like red lipstick. We throw hand-shadows at the walls of our old dorms, proving -- mostly to ourselves but also to others -- that we deserved the cap and gown, we were bright young things and we have made Something of Ourselves. And then we watch the shadows we create play, grow, perhaps get out of control and move independently of our fingers and we wonder what is real and what is parlour trickery? We measure ourselves against our former selves, then we backslap and handshake and measure this mirrored thing against their mirrored thing until we're all just walking down runways. Or at least that's what a reunion has the capacity to create. Shallow conversations, clustering years into a blurb, asking someone how they are without really hearing the answer. This is what we expect from a reunion. That, and free booze. And dancing to "Rock Lobster".
And perhaps that's what is done at the early reunions, 5 years out, 10 years out, parading our jobs and careers and cars and wives and children as proof of our consequence on earth, post-college.
What I found this weekend was quite different. A measure of...well...measure. Connection. A sense that this community is a vital one and an important one to me, not just for those long-long-ago brief years before my knees creaked, but now. And maybe, the wonder and blessing for me is, that most especially now.
I remember the 5th Reunion. I was 27, adrift professionally and personally, wanting to Matter, surrounded by people already (seemingly) on their way, whether in graduate school or professionally. I still hadn't heard my calling yet, and was lonely. And the posturing was fairly evident. I was still fairly freshly out of this environment, still missing it somewhat, the people, the ease of the day, the rigor of the reading. I remember dancing joyously, ecstatically, almost dervishly, hoping the whirl of our movements might slow time, rewind. I missed the 10th. Returned with my then-husband to the 15th. There were babies of others' by then, we'd all multiplied, a bit more stable and rooted in our adult feet. More real that time. We had sunk further into our becoming. I still felt adrift and not yet anywhere.
So to my 20th. In some ways I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, and these past 5 years have felt more like a quickening. Certainly this time, I could return to my college armed with a career and accomplishments, not having to suffer the "So, are you still doing that music thing?" At this point, most of us could (whether the accomplishments were quiet or loud, personal or professional). I also returned armed with failure and acquiescence, clarity and acceptance of the murkiness. And from brief and strong encounters with my classmates, I felt we all did. There was a realness this time. Shedding of the skin. We have famous and extremely accomplished friends amongst, we have classmates who have amassed a great amount of wealth, we have classmates who lead quietly devotional lives, who have had great conversions, who have failed and fallen, who have raised children and devoted their time to their families, we have classmates who have suffered cancer and run marathons and we have classmates who we lost along the way. There's something about a small college experience, where faces are as familiar as rain, when returning to see those faces older, thinner, lined with joy and pain, you feel a homecoming serenity. Might not have liked all of them, but without these faces, most of whom you barely knew, the landscape wouldn't be right. Look across a tent decorated like a wedding cake, and see the 40 year old faces of the 18 year old you'd pass every morning in the hallway, muttering a polite hello, or the boy you once thought you could love now with his beautiful wife and children, or the beautiful girl who intimidated you still beautiful but the hardness softened....
Maybe the days of the puppet shadows are passing. Maybe as we have been bruised in our quest up the hill, holding on tightly to the spouse or the children or the career or the friends, we return to a very small portion of our past, such few days together, really, in the scope of a lifetime. But what days....