Saturday, June 16, 2007

College Reunion Notes

Taken from Joseph Dispenza's book entitled, The Way of the Traveler: "My story is the journey of my life through time and space. It is a tale of valiant undertakings - fording rushing rivers, making my way through the dark woods, crossing the long, wide fields, battling dragons - this leads me to the crystal palace of wisdom. Returned, I gather the threads of the journey. I prepare to tell my tale. And what I have to say is this: 'Once upon a time...'"

One of my pre-travel rituals, inspired by Joseph Dispenza's book is to fill both sides of a 3 x 5 postcard with spiritual goals and provisions for my journey. In other words, although I knew that the external reason for our recent trip was to attend our 20-year college reunion, what was the internal motivation or goal for the journey? What did I expect to learn or experience along the way? And, other than clothing, cosmetics, and an umbrella, what provisions would I need in order to be fully prepared to make the most and the best of the trip?

When I went to New York City last August to meet up with the writing group I'd been involved with for five years before moving to Charlotte, I carried along: a sense of humor and delight; awe and wonder; the ability to listen without interrupting others; the willingness to stop speaking if others interrupted me; and the gift of observation of others and myself. Quietness of mouth and spirit wasn't as difficult as I'd expected it would be.

When Steve and I flew to England with the children two years ago in March, my spiritual luggage was filled with patience, humility, the willingness to submit to others, flexibility, acceptance, grace, kindness, gentleness, curiosity, interest, laughter, an open heart, a sense of adventure, and as always, awe and wonder. Anyone who knows anything about that trip knows that it was the single most difficult family vacation we have even taken. I needed every ounce of patience, humility, and flexibility I carried along, and then some...

This time last week, as I prepared for our class' evening soiree, I dangled words of encouragement, my sense of humor, curiosity about the lives of others, and good memories of my days in college around my neck along with my diamond cross pendant. At the same time, I laid aside my ego, my desire to be impressive, and any sense of intimidation or unworthiness I might feel. I wasn't quite as successful at leaving jealousy or self-pity behind as the tales of world travel, first class or private jet flights, and dancing with kings, prime ministers, and presidents (no exaggeration!) made me wonder if perhaps I should have married the duke of Madrid when he asked me way back in 1989... only kidding on that last detail!

Why did I go to the reunion? To see old friends. To make new ones. To wander in awe and gratitude around the Williams campus and reminisce about all the scrapes and near misses that I survived, all the victories won on the track and in the classroom, and of course, to buy purple and yellow Williams stuff!

Why did I go to the reunion, really? To travel back in time to meet up with the young woman I was then, to congratulate her on graduating so many years ago and for blossoming into the woman I am now, to give thanks to God for all that I learned there, all that I suffered there, and all that I experienced there that has contributed to the woman I am today. I went there to be re-united with the 21 year old who left that campus with great pride and great sorrow: I had done it, and then I had to leave the security and simplicity of undergrad life behind.

I did all those things. I walked, talked, listened, watched, took photos, asked questions, journaled, marveled at the art in the museums, and bought purple and yellow stuff. I thought back on classes I'd taken, Christian Fellowship meetings I'd led and participated in, parties I'd danced at until the wee hours of the morning, bookstores I'd perused in search of books by Alice Walker and Joy Harjo, dorm rooms I'd slept in and woken up in, and marveled at how far I've come in my life. I pondered the great divides in my life that I experienced as a student at Williams: between Christian fellowship gatherings and late night parties, between political science discussions on campus and political conservatism at church, and between all that I had been raised to believe at home and all that I was beginning to understand and believe about the world that existed outside of our home. I admit that many of those divisions are as real for me now as they have ever been. At the same time, I recognized how much I have learned along the way, how many people I have known and loved, and how blessed my life has been.

As an undergraduate, I received a scholarship from the class of 1957. I'm not sure why they chose me, but they did, and I was enormously grateful. As part of my Class of '57 Scholarship responsibilities, I had to attend various parties and dinners with that class. During one of those events, I met Charlie and Cathy Berry; he'd graduated with the illustrious and generous class of '57. It was love at first sight for the three of us: he with his shock of thick white hair and irrepressible sense of humor, she with her pencil skirts and quiet refined dignity, and me, with my short afro, big smile, and amazement at the wealth they must have had in order to sponsor a NYC girl like me at an expensive college like Williams.

This year, Charlie's class celebrated their 50-year reunion. During lunch on Saturday, I walked over to where they were having their lunch and stared at those smartly dressed men and women for what seemed like forever until I spotted Charlie. Dapper and handsome as ever, he was sitting on the steps outside of Chapin Hall, eating and talking to the people around him. When our eyes met, he put his plate down beside him, scampered down the stairs, threw his arms open and shouted, "The love of my life," as he embraced me in his still-strong arms. I felt like the woman in the diamond commercial whose husband throws up his arms in Venice's Piazza di San Marco and declares, "I love this woman."

Charlie's greeting echoed words I'd been saying to myself all weekend long. I'd wanted to throw my arms up to the sky and say, "I love this place. I love this life." In my travel journal, I had written story after account after detail of the time I'd spent in Willamstown, of the lessons I'd learned outside the classroom, and the many things and people I wish I'd known better when I was there.

Has my life been ecstatic every day? Not even close. Have I often wished for second chances to do some things differently? Every single day.

But I wouldn't trade those
joyful and fulfilling days,
those dark and dreadful nights,
those brain- and gut-busting classes,
those heart- and leg-busting track workouts,
those dancing, drinking,
laughing, loving,
dangerous, delightful,
studious, stupendous,
challenging, checkered,
rigorous, riotous
four years for anything at all.

I realize now that the motto I chose for this year while in Spain in early January - "Live this moment fully. Breathe it fully." - is the motto I've lived my entire life. I just hadn't worded it so succinctly until recently. May it always be the way I live my life - rushing rivers, dark woods, wide fields, and ferocious dragons, notwithstanding.

Again I quote Dispenza: "For me, as for the heroes of old, the journey draws to a close in thanksgiving. In the temple of this journey to the heart of myself, I bask in the light of new wisdom so dearly won, so graciously given."


Nancy said...

Glad to have you back Gail! I'll be traveling to Denver next month to visit friends whom I have not seen for more than a year. After reading this post I'm thinking I need to consider the less obvious reasons for making this trip. Not used to travel by air, the whole idea is stressful to me, so there must be some really good reasons I'm actually doing this in addition to just wanting to see my friends!
I love the part at the end about Charlie. Thanks for sharing your journey!

lisa from ohio said...

This is a beautiful post! I love your words and insights! I wouldn't have 1/100th of the patience, insight, reminiscence, fondness, etc. you have for your college days - and then who you've become now. I'm so impressed with your level of reflection and inner wisdom.

My face lit up when you mentioned seeing Charlie. How cool!

Blessings to you for gracing us with your presence in the blogosphere.

p.s. Dutch is doing much better. And I've certainly felt your prayers for peace and less anxiety. Thank you for caring and keeping in touch. :-)