The end of the year for teachers becomes a jumble of the mundane and the profound. In a frenzy of work that seems never to end and yet also beckons us towards final freedom for the summer, we slap grades on every remaining scrap of paper, calculate the weight of the year, write pithy comments, suggest improvements, and laud the laudable. Late nights at the laptop to sum up, encourage, congratulate, and conclude. Our days fill with luncheons and ceremonies and emotional farewells to seniors. The work and ceremony collide, sleep disappears, time expands and collapses, and we wash up in a stupor on Friday morning, the day after graduation.
This year I slipped out of time’s stream for a weekend in the midst of the end-of-the-year hullabaloo. Riding with my great friends Dick and Claire, I went to my 35th college reunion at Yale.
Reunions, for all the eating and drinking, singing and dancing, have a haunted quality–the young self buried by the old you. But the event can bring you back to yourself. If you listen well, look hard enough, you can almost touch that fey young woman you once were, hurrying into Sterling Library to work on an essay about George Eliot or Hardy or Yeats at a table in the Main Reading Room. Rarely spending enough time to get the words right. Or dashing up the stairs to the top floor of Payne Whitney for gymnastics practice, or having a fourth or fifth cup of tea in Calhoun dining hall while debating everything from Socrates to streaking. Slogging through slush in Beineke Plaza on the way to Science Hill.
Mory’s, Naples, Broadway Pizza, Rudy’s, Toad’s Place. Classes in Linsley Chit, WLH. Mixers, Happy Hours, Louis’ Lunch, the Doodle. The stacks in Sterling, the benumbing beige of Cross-Campus. You think about who you meant to be and who you became. And while those memories crowd in, you sit with old friends–as in, now we actually are old–and remember the missing and the dead.
Your life feels like a page of words folded back on itself, the vivid writing of today overlaying the faded, fountain pen scrawl of then, and you are the old words, the new words, and the reader trying to understand both, hoping for a touch of poetry somewhere in the palimpsest.
Going to reunion in the midst of year-end revelry of a high school makes it even more haunting. Graduation and Reunion, like two tectonic plates, push against each other. You see beautiful, sunlit young women in white dresses at graduation, and you know how fast their time will flee as well. Tissue-thin slips of paper sliding past one another, fading in the light.