Last week I took a trip up through Ohio and into Pennsylvania. It was a quiet trip. I drove alone, listening to melancholy audiobooks, and then stayed a few nights each with good friends. The most exciting outings included Hobby Lobby and blueberry picking with a three-year-old. As I told someone just recently, I’m not much of a do-er. I’m a talker and a be-er, for better or for worse. So this was a really lovely trip.
I trod familiar college ground all week long, both literally and figuratively. Every friend I saw was someone who met and became important to me during college. People tend to talk in hackneyed terms about living life in chapters, and it felt appropriate to re-live such a neatly defined previous chapter as I’m about to step out into a brand-new one.
So on Thursday and Friday, I wandered around campus and its environs, stopping to gaze at very particular doors and windows behind which I remembered doing most of my living. I wanted to have some rush of feelings but felt a little disconnected from those four years, though I knew they grew me up. As for the friends I was in the midst of visiting and our long conversations, they were wonderful-wonderful, but those friendships have outgrown college in many ways, which, I told myself, can only be a good thing. I like these new conversations about marriage and motherhood and a home that’s distinctly yours, even if I’m not there yet myself.
But I continued to walk around campus, because I knew I owed it to the place. I took myself into the main classroom building to see if anyone was there, though Grove City doesn’t have summer classes. As I climbed the central staircase, for a brief moment I breathed in some old anxiety hanging in the air, as if I were wearing a backpack again, aware I hadn’t read well enough for the quiz I was about to take, running lists of names and terms in my head, surrounded by a crush of other students moving past me in the ten minutes between morning classes, choruses of wet snow boots squeaking on the slick floors. Funnily, it’s an anxiety I don’t remember feeling, but yet there was its ghost, moving eerily around my midriff, so it must have existed.
The overwhelming majority of things I remember from college are good (thus why I wanted to come back and visit): long meals with friends, sometimes cooked with our own hands, rambling walks down Pinchalong, methodically pacing the stacks whenever I had a paper to write, sitting in the dark nave of the chapel during Thursday night Warriors, teaching myself on icy-cold walks to class to look up even though everyone else looked down. I do remember some hard things: tears, humiliations, hurts that stung. I remember them because I learned from them, though, because they turned out to be important.
But that hazy, anxious feeling I wandered into on the stairs last week was not important, so I walked through it and up out of it onto the second floor toward the English department, where I ran into a favorite professor and we sat down and talked, not about the old days, but about the way things are now.
We cannot carry our whole pasts in our hands, so the wind blows the chaff away, and the memories left to us are manageable. I have been nervous about this move out west because of the looming, but as-yet unseen, challenges and pains I know it will present, but the great North Wind will continue to blow and blow and blow, and I will manage the gifts given to me, one by one by one.