Last weekend I went to my college reunion. It was, in a way, other-worldly. I say this not in any sci-fi sense of the term, but merely to say that I placed myself into a world far different from the one I’ve been inhabiting, intensely, for the last several years: home construction, landscaping, birding (mainly in our back yard), working side-by-side with Kim, and planning, as best we can, for our short- and longer-term futures.
The transitions into and out of this other-worldliness were, for me as an infrequent flyer, not without stress. I got to the airport, coming and going, way earlier than necessary, which did gain me some reading time, so I did not feel too much like a fool. The flight to Hartford featured a crying baby who would occasionally kick at my seat, but the cookie was good. The drive to Amherst in the rental car was OK, except I got off the expressway at the wrong exit and, after parking very illegally on a lawn, I could not figure out how to turn off the lights on my car, an exotic brand called “Ford.” Consulting the manual helped, but the struggle did make me question the value of my English major at a liberal arts college. The return trip featured an extended layover in Chicago while they had to find a new plane for us – one that would not crash. I did successfully find my car in the parking lot, and it started.
Other-worldly? The college had changed, of course, with much more diversity than we had in the old days. I got lost wandering around looking for renamed or new buildings where I could see and give presentations. I slept in a dorm room on campus in a Spartan uncomfortable bed, a far cry from my bed at home. I had a feeling I was not in Michigan anymore.
What is a reunion? According to Wikipedia, “A reunion is a gathering of individuals who have met previously or share ancestry.” It’s more than that, at least potentially, as suggested by the “union” at the base of “reunion” – a joining of parts into one, with the “re-” suggesting “again.” At a reunion you don’t just gather. You become one. Sorta.
A true reunion thus is difficult. We have changed, especially after 55 years. Despite the time, however, the joining, or rejoining, sometimes happens, and that has a magical feel – this despite the fact that my friend Peter had to depart a few short hours after my arrival. There were other joinings that had begun through this blog, but due to my short time and the busy schedule, they did not come to a satisfying fruition. At previous college reunions my best connections were frequently with guys who I did not know all that well when I was an undergrad, and I thought that was cool. And this time my best connection was with Michelle, who was Mike when I knew him years ago and who I had not seen since. This counted as a reunion, though Michelle’s new gender identity might lead some to conclude that she is a different person, and thus no “re-.” On the other hand, I’m not sure if Mike/Michelle has changed more than I have . . .. I used to be stumbling, clueless and insecure, but now I stumble securely, looking for clues.
Most of the presentations at the reunion were on large and important topics, and they were addressed with what one classmate described as “impeccable reasonableness.” That’s good, and no doubt valuable, but it left me impressed but at a bit of a distance, not especially reunited with anything. I felt better when classmates struggled to sing some college songs.
My next reunion happened when I returned home. Kim had held my dinner despite my late arrival. She looked great. She caught me up on planting and landscaping she had done in my absence, and we planned landscaping projects, Land Conservancy volunteer work, what to do with the bird feeders, future family wedding plans, etc.
During my presentation about how Kim and I are dealing with her cancer, I wept when I described the life we are so grateful to be able to live together. Someone in the audience asked how I felt being part of a life that includes stage 4 cancer. I answered that I am happier now than I have ever been because I have grown, or activated, parts of my heart that I did not know I had.