It was not the stereotypical weekend of cliche’s. I did not wonder why these alumni looked so old. I knew they would look like me–people pushing sixty. I noticed how different the conversations were among my peers as compared to those of younger classes. No talk of careers or childrearing. There was no competition, no comparing of social status, and no name dropping of important contacts. These people had learned what was important in life. Instead, it was talk of family, friendships, and simple joys–the things that last. These people had not returned to campus to recapture their lost youth or hold onto the past. These were people comfortable with themselves and the flow of time. These were mature people–good people.
What is the lure of college reunions? I think it’s biological, or at least deeply psychological–the desire to return home. The words “alma mater” mean “nourishing mother.” It is a Latin phrase that originally referred to the mother goddess of ancient Rome and later to the medieval Virgin Mary.
There is a deep instinct in man to return to our alma mater, and it is not an Oedipal complex or Freudian neurosis. It is part of our spiritual journey, an expression of our religious instinct. Man is by nature a spiritual animal–homo religiosus. College reunions prove it.
College is one of those times and places that shape us more than we realize at the time. For most of us it was our first “home away from home.” To come back to campus is to return to the matrix (another maternal term) in which we were formed. It is part of a more profound return. We are earth and to earth we shall return. Likewise, we are spirit and to spirit we shall return. As Ecclesiastes says, “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
Life is a round trip. As soon as we leave the womb we begin our journey homeward. At first we cannot wait to get away from home. Then we try our best to make a home. Finally we begin the long journey home. Reunions are part of that homecoming.
I did not return to hobnob with old friends or see old professors, although I did both. But most of our friends did not attend, and almost all my professors are gone. I came to warm myself at the ancestral hearth, to walk the labyrinthine campus paths that wind back to my center. For me it was not about the past or who I used to be. I came to reconnect to who I am and who I will be.
This essay originally appeared on Davis’ blog, revmdavis.blogspot.com.