Looking backward seems vaguely un-American, unless for the now timely “year in review” exercise. This, however, is not that.
Rather, I want to share a couple of recent looking-back experiences. Each has been sweet and somehow reassuring.
The first came a couple weeks before Christmas when the 1967-68 Willamette University men’s soccer team was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. It was to be an in-person, on-campus event held last September. But you know what happened to that.
So plans were made for an on-line, video ceremony, which was nice, but for me not the really the important part. That was the hour previous to the induction — when all of us on the team who could make it got on a Zoom call and caught up with one another.
I signed on eagerly for that call, which surprised me as I’ve not been particularly good about staying connected to the school or those I knew then. I was a little nervous about it as well, in the way people are about “re-unions.” How would they look? How would I look to them? Would some of the one-ups-manship of our occasionally callow 20-year-old selves still be in evidence?
At first, I could hardly recognize anyone on the screen, except my old college roomie. I don’t think I’d seen any of the others in the 50 years since I graduated. But, as if a fog were lifting, each one came gradually clear. Hearing the voices helped. The voices hadn’t changed.
People reported, at least a bit, on fifty years of living. A surprising number, myself included, were still married to the woman they had met and courted at Willamette. Some had pursued a single vocation for a lifetime. A few were still at it. Others had led a more Dylan-esque rolling stone life. Career choices of some were predictable. Others were surprising: the rich kid who became a forester, the frat/ party boy who developed low-income housing. Many seemed to have more hair on their faces than on top of their heads.
What struck me most, given my apprehensions, was how genuine and kind we were. Several spoke about how grateful they felt for the education we had received at Willamette. And it wasn’t BS, it was real.
Life and living seemed to have made us more kind. More kind and more grateful.
The second looking-back experience has been in my book group. Ten guys. We’ve been together maybe six or seven years now. At our last “meeting” (Zoom) during “check-in” time one guy reported that the pandemic and more time at home has prompted him to do some life review, returning (figuratively) to crossroads along the way, and wondering about how life might have gone had a different choice been made. Were others experiencing anything similar?
Subsequently I, the titular founder of the group, got the crazy idea that we each write a letter to our 25-year-old self (our present ages range from mid- 60’s to mid- 80’s) and share it with the group.
I wasn’t sure why I thought that a good idea, or if any one would really come through. But first there was one letter “to my 25 year old self,” then another. By December 30, our deadline, all ten of us had weighed in.
The remembrances are not without experiences of pain and loss. Some are funny, others a bit profane. Most of us warned our 25-year-old self about a couple of his blind spots but promised learning, if in unexpected ways.
Again the dominant notes were gratitude and kindness. Living? Life? It’s good, it’s worth it. There will be hard stuff, some very hard. But one way or another we all seemed to say something like what the medieval humanist scholar, Erasmus, once advised a young man,
’Tis a brave world, my young doctor.
Do not be afraid of it; do not calculate your chances so closely that you miss your chance;
Do not pretend to know what you do not know.
Work and laugh and give thanks, for these three are one.
You did not make the world. You cannot remake it. You cannot even spoil it.
You may, however, know the wonder of improving some small corner of it.
But (do not forget that) before you arrived the world was pronounced “very good.”
Go now and enter its joy.”
Words pertinent to any age, and perhaps a “looking forward” note in closing. Happy New Year!