Last weekend was the first – and might be the only – ‘all college’ reunion of my small, liberal arts alma mater, Kirkland. A landmark event. All graduating classes held a collective celebration. It’s a close-knit, altruistic, and creative community that bonded even more closely following the hostile takeover – or institutional sexual harassment, depending on your viewpoint – ten years after its founding. Many of men who attended the conquering college, Hamilton, feel strongly attached to the singular community that the temporary marriage (one could also add the analogy of institutional uxoricide) these contrasting entities generated.
The college years are a special time. Back then, it offered a protective bubble of unprecedented freedom in the midst of the Vietnam War. On that isolated campus, several miles from a small town, the mainly urban/suburban, East Coast students abandoned their lives of anti-war protests and rock concerts (at a time when one could see Rod Stewart and the Grateful Dead perform in college gymnasiums) and, perhaps most importantly, parental supervision, for the freedom and tranquility of the woods and fields of central New York State. Nurturing young minds was goal, and the professors undertook this responsibility with missionary zeal.
Although I’ve recognized or remembered few people when attending past reunions, I have enjoyed returning to that place where I was so content that I stayed, alone, during the summers, while others were off traveling in Europe or working. For me, it’s not memories connected with the campus – classes, concerts, dining halls, the pub (when the drinking age was 18) – that are strongest, but my time spent in the surrounding woods and fields with my Nantucket Retriever, Jessica.
I’d looked forward to attending the reunion with my homie Dave since before the pandemic. The following weekend, I’d planned to attend the birthday party of a musician-friend. When the reunion moved to the same weekend, I had a decision to make. The choice was clear: celebrate a milestone birthday with the birthday boy, the brother I never had. My chosen family. The folks with whom I spent Christmas and whom I love unconditionally. I also knew I’d have more fun at the birthday celebration – many of the attendees were world class musicians – and it was a joyous celebration of the highest caliber – spit-roasted pigs and lambs, homemade baklava and burek, Romany and and Grammy-award-winning musicians, and dancing.
This situation presented one of those moments when I deeply wished I could be in two places at once. Sometimes, one option is definitively better than others, but often for me they’re just different. I don’t spend a lot of time wondering ‘what if’ but without question the aspect of being human I find most frustrating is that we can only physically live one life, pursue one life path, even if our imaginations offer a broad palette of possibilities.