“I find as I grow older that I love those most whom I loved first.” Thomas Jefferson.
I will confess from the outset that this quote was stolen from a college classmate, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind. It expressed so beautifully how I felt after returning from my fortieth college reunion last weekend that I simply had to make it mine (well, Mr. Jefferson’s and mine).
I attended a small college in a beautiful part of the state, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and given to spectacular autumns of red and gold maples with a backdrop of picture perfect sunsets. From the time I visited the spring before freshman year with a small church group I knew I would love it, in no small part because the college was, in a sense, family for me. Both my brothers, an aunt, uncle, and various and sundry other relatives had attended this church affiliated school; it was a bit like coming home. No towering modern buildings to be found here! While I can’t vouch for ivy on walls, others with a better memory probably would; the campus was that quaint. We didn’t know everyone, but with an enrollment of only 900, we knew a lot of folks. My high school class in Northern Virginia had boasted 550 students in the graduating class. I began to finally feel a bit like a big fish in a small pond, as opposed to the rarely noticed minnow I’d been before.
The girls on my hall, every one of them freshmen, bonded immediately. We later agreed that the year passed in somewhat of a blur, as we all averaged about three hours sleep a night. It was basically one long slumber party, and we subsisted nicely on popcorn, Coke, and whatever care package had been sent that week. It was the late sixties and the world churned outside our doors. We sat up late and fervently tried to solve the world’s problems; but to no less extent, we also tried to salve one another’s broken hearts after someone had been disappointed or summarily dumped. We quizzed each other for tests and exams, laughed at everything and nothing, cried at one another’s sorrows–real or imagined–and formed friendships that have managed to stand all these years later.
When I look now at the faces of my classmates from so long ago…and not just my dorm friends from that first year, but all of us who crossed the stage four years later to collect our diplomas…I get a definite lump in my throat. The faces that I see are lined, the hair on the men thinning or a fond memory, the middles on all of us expanded a bit from the lithe creatures we were at eighteen. And yet these are the people whom I loved first in my burgeoning adulthood, whom I lived among in the closest of quarters for nine months of each year. In those faces I recognize that boy I had a crush on in math class. The girl from first floor who loaned me a shawl for the Homecoming dance. The couple who married sophomore year and are together these many years later, still holding hands as they head for the dance floor. Those sweet, wonderful faces that I know have endured every joy and sorrow there is. Many of us have faced illnesses that we thought might prove stronger than us, only to fight through. We have lost spouses to divorce and death, seen our children struggle mightily, been unemployed, loved and then parted from friends. And yet here we are all these years later, brought together by our love of this place and these people. Stories are swapped, yearbooks flipped through. Laughter abounds, arms are linked in affection; hugs are plentiful. “We must get together sooner,” we cry. “Let’s not wait five more years…how about two?” The old songs are danced to one more time, and though the hips move a little more slowly, the Motown beat still courses through our veins.
As I head home at the end of the weekend, exhausted but oh so happy, I send up a silent thanks that we’re all still so close. That we can look at one another with a vision that extends beyond the present and allows us to remember those innocent years so long ago. May it continue to be so for a good long time, my friends.