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Homecoming, friendship, and gray hairs

The leaves were reluctant to change this year.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain since my house chore is to rake them, and I haven’t had to worry about that much as of yet. But there’s something crisp and clean and academic about the reds and oranges that light up campus this time of year. It makes the whole process worthwhile. Perhaps it’s a little narcissistic of me to assign the weather as a metaphor for my life, but unorthodox metaphors are my specialty, and it’s true: I, too, have been reluctant to face change this year.

In my last column, I talked about how people tend to relate better with each other when they’re willing to share their trash along with their treasure. And since I’m airing my thoughts on this page of the newspaper, I figure I should probably be willing to stand by my own opinions. So here are a few of the dirty socks that have been spilling out of my dresser drawer.

Over the past couple of years, Homecoming Weekend was always an exciting time of the semester. I anticipated the thrill of a handful of alumni, with whom I was moderately close, returning for a quick visit. Things changed last May, however, when the handful of alumni missing from campus grew into a large portion of my dearest and closest friends. I nurtured a vague hope that a few of them would show their faces at Homecoming this year, but given the financial status and busyness of new graduates in general, and the overall diaspora of my friends across the country in particular, I wasn’t too surprised when nobody came back. So this fall Homecoming Weekend became more of an absence-as-icon ceremony.

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to take Dr. Justin Jackson’s Anglo-Saxon class (Okay, okay, Dr. Jackson: Anglo-Saxon AND Medieval British Literature class), in a brief translation this means that the lack of my friends’ presence acted as a vivid reminder of their existence and the memories we made together.

In an even briefer translation: I really miss them.

Millions of trite sayings about friendship have been worn out and thrown away, and then rummaged out of the dumpster and used again: “Friendship is a gift,” “True friends are hard to find,” “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Yet behind these words lies a great truth: real friends don’t come into our lives very often. Some socially-gifted people may find this hard to believe, but you have to understand that by “friends” I don’t mean those people you can sit down with in Saga if you have to or count on acknowledging your presence when you walk into a room. I mean the ones who can tell what’s bothering you without asking, who can sit silently by your side when they know it’s not a time for speaking, who laugh at what you’re thinking instead of what you said, or who slap you in the face when that’s clearly the only way to get you out of your funk. And yes, I have friends who do all of those things—including the last one.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so bothered by insubstantial ideas of “unity” or “community.” Yes, surely we should show kindness and understanding toward those who are significantly different than us or have chosen to experience life through a different lens than us. But clearly, these are not people whom I will trust with my most personal thoughts on life or will look to for input concerning my most serious struggles. Those people are few and far between.

So when many of the people I deeply trusted left this campus, much of what my remaining friends and I knew as life at Hillsdale changed dramatically.

And I’m not particularly good with change. It’s unsettling and disorienting. In fact, the other day a friend ripped a gray hair out of my head and my response was to screech almost, but not quite, as loud as the time my Shakespeare anthology was dropped in the snow. Sometimes I think life would be easier if everything remained static and separated into nice, clean compartments. Yet, to return to my metaphor, just as the fading of summer from the trees also brings a rich, new joy, this Homecoming I was left with a deeper gratitude for those precious people who love and are loved by me as themselves, with complete trust and no expectations between us. In the words of a certain silly ol’ bear, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

So I suppose there’s some comfort to be found in the change. Besides, I imagine that Homecoming Weekend isn’t the only time of year where it’s possible to get in a car and drive.

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