In 1983 I read Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men in Mr. Taylor’s AP English class, a novel that still remains one of my favorites (probably because the narrator, Jack Burden, is a frustrated historian). There is a chapter in which Jack drives from Louisiana to California, reflecting on all the “selves” he has been in his life, and how those selves have brought him to the present. Last weekend I also revisited some of my other selves on a road trip—I went to our 30th University of Virginia reunion. And because you aren’t the reunion type, I went for both of us.
It was interesting that there seemed to be significantly more women than men at the reunion. Did the men have younger kids and home and couldn’t attend? Or are we women more likely to want to look back, to keep up or renew those connections that were once so much a part of our everyday lives? Sitting around the table with my old roommates, we couldn’t believe that we had passed the half-century mark—seeing those familiar faces we once lived and laughed with brought out our old college selves, selves untested by the pummels of life. Though our weekend talks had touched on divorce, problems with the kids and the frailties (and loss) of our aging parents, that Saturday night, when the band played Michael and Madonna, those cares fell away. Dancing under a Charlottesville moon with a cup of beer in our hands, our 20-something selves were happily in the 80’s.
Looking back at my college self, I am amazed (and a little saddened) by the things I didn’t know and maybe more importantly, the things I didn’t care about. I didn’t realize then that the faith that I took for granted (“I’ll go to Mass next week.”) would be my rock now. It’s frustrating how long it took me to (imperfectly) gain the wisdom and peace that God’s truth provides. I knew I loved my friends, but I didn’t realize that these same women would be a touchstone to my past self and a support to my current one.
While I know you hate reunions, I’m glad I went back. Walking down The Lawn (yes, it must be capitalized), past our old house and to The Corner (UVa’s little strip of shops, bars and restaurants) I could visit with 20 year-old me, who didn’t realize how good she had it, and who certainly couldn’t have guessed what the years would bring. Because I met hubby in Charlottesville, and because my guys are now roughly at the ages I was when he and I met, married and became parents, all my other selves—young wife, new mom, frazzled parent of teen boys and now empty-nester—were nurtured in large part on those serpentine-walled, red-brick-and-white-columned Grounds. And all those other selves of mine joined me this weekend on my road trip into my past–and are part of who I am now.
So raise your cup, your loving cup, to dear old UVa. And to all our other selves who came before and whose failings and joys have brought us to the right now.