Growing Up and Letting Go of Nostalgia

Me at Bowles PlazaThis is me back on campus at ol’Wash U. Thanks to Felicia Conway Korengal for the pic!

So, I mentioned on Tuesday that I was still processing my 25th College Reunion. People keep asking me if I had fun and if I’m glad I went and my usual answers have been “kind of” and “yes.” I think it’s good that I went and I don’t regret it, and there were many fun moments, but I didn’t really enjoy myself all that much.

I felt super emotional – lots of sadness – and I wasn’t sure why.

A few things played into this, I think. I’ve been back to campus and St. Louis many times over the last 25 years since graduation, but always with very specific plans. Sometimes I was there for work and arranged to see local friends. Once I arranged for a celebration of my favorite professor, who was dying of cancer. Many of his former students from over the years came together to talk about how much his teachings meant to us. That was an amazing, fulfilling experience.

This time, it was the random luck-of-the-draw, whoever turned-up-for-the-reunion thing. There were some people I knew – Felicia being one – and a whole lot of people I didn’t remember. Very few of them remembered me. I ended up walking around by myself a lot, which was fine because I’m good with that, and it also replicated how I was in college. Most of the time I went from place to place on my own, caught up in my own thoughts, following my own schedule. So that put me very much back where I was then.

And I became profoundly aware of how different I am now.

It was kind of wrenching to realize.

See, for a very long time, I regarded my college years as an ideal time in my life. And it was, in many, many ways. At Wash U, I found my tribe in a way I never had before. I blossomed – socially, intellectually and, dare I say, spiritually – and when I graduated and moved on, I deeply missed the community I’d had there. I grieved for it. I may have idealized it.

Because, walking around, visiting all my old places, memories came back to me that made me see how unhappy I’d been at times. Especially in the first couple of years. It was a time of great growth and change for me, which often means pain. To my surprise, instead of happy nostalgia, I re-experienced a lot of that old pain. An amazing sensation, 25 years later.

The extraordinary thing that hit me was, how much better my life is now.

It’s especially clear to me as I plan to go to the RT Booklovers Convention next week. My schedule is already full – meals and drinks and parties with friends, various writing and reading communities and publishers. There are so many people I’m excited to see and talk to.

They are my new tribe.

It’s an interesting experience, to realize you’re not the person you were. Almost like a little death. No wonder no one remembered me – I’m not at all who I was then. Which, I suppose, is how it should be.

I walked onto that campus at 19 and left four years later a transformed person. Of course that didn’t stop. One of the things I most value about the education I received at Washington University is the tools they gave me to continue a lifetime of learning and growing.

Learn and grow I have.

It will be interesting to see who I am in another 25 years.

5 Replies to “Growing Up and Letting Go of Nostalgia”

  1. Actually, I think you were only 18 when you walked onto that campus. And you grew up there. We all feel a little sadness when we look back at the past. Mainly, I think, it is because it IS past and we can’t change any of it. Who you will be? What you will be? Who knows? It is up to you. I can assure you of only one thing…the next 25 years? They’ll seem like only 25!

    1. You’re right – I was thinking it was 19 because my birthday right before let me drink 3.2 beer. But that was 18 in Colorado then. 19 was the drinking age for everything in Wyoming.

  2. I always wonder about the people who go to those things and fit right in – like they never left. If I went to my college reunion, I don’t think any of those people would know me. A lot has happened since 1992 (the year I should’ve graduated, but ended up dropping out about 40 credits shy instead). I tried getting in touch with a couple people from the old gang. The result was a short, awkward phone call that never happened again. Yet all of them still converse – if I go by Facebook. Maybe if I’d stayed in touch all that time, I’d be part of that, too. :shrug:

    I get a little wistful about it from time to time. Then I move on. I guess, for me, there’s no going back.

    1. That’s a good point, B.E. If we went back and slid right into that glove, it wouldn’t bode well for what we’d done since, huh?

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