Last month I went to my 10 year college reunion. I'm not really a reunion-type person. Perhaps understanding my natural reticence, my best friend and college room mate booked the dates a year and a half ago.
It was a strange experience because of the backwards deja vu that kept overtaking me. I bet people who like reunions love that sensation. The women with whom I used to rip up Boston's dance floors until all hours of the morning now have children and spouses--that's more or less standard form at this juncture and only of average strangeness.
More so, what threw me off was a particular kind of conversation we kept having. Most catching up was as simple as you'd expect, the garden variety hi, hello, haven't seen you since that class we took, glad you're well, nice talking, bye. With some people, though, the ones I'd been close to, but not close enough to maintain much contact besides an occasional 'like' on Facebook, we took each other's confessions.
Wellesley is currently ranked the third best college in the country. It was and is a wonderful place, and it's also a place of high expectations and pressure. Even newly arrived at seventeen, I understood that we were our own harshest critics; the school wasn't pushing us nearly as hard as we pushed ourselves. Failure was anathema, and for me, I never stopped thinking, what am I doing here? These people made a mistake by admitting me.
For reunion weekend, my best friend and I stayed on campus in the dorms. If we'd crossed to the other side of the building, we could have looked down into the piece of forest where in 2004, the body of my classmate was discovered after she committed suicide. She was an award-winning musician with perfect grades. I bet Katie thought more than once, what am I doing here?
Nearly fourteen years later, we huddled together drinking Chardonnay, spending precious minutes confessing what we perceived as our failures: getting fired, divorced, unexpectedly switching careers, quitting, wanting to be a stay-at-home parent instead of a CEO, not making much money, not using our degree, not living up to the gift of a great education. The absolution we offered each other was throwing our own shortcomings on the pile for others to see. It was cathartic and sad, in that order.
Wolfe wrote, "Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America--that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement."
I can't decide if tossing down those worries was our attempt to lighten the load so we could race forward even faster, or if they were little roots we were daring to germinate and hold fast, in the name of teaching ourselves how to be still.
There's no unifying message here at the end tying all these anecdotes neatly together. That feels like failure. I wonder if you feel I've wasted your time; time you could have been moving forward with purpose, feeling fixed and certain.