Friday, April 25, 2008


I am standing on the loggia, two stories tall with a domed stone roof. The wide marble steps lead down to a fountain that sprays millions of water-drop mirrors into the warm spring afternoon. Black wrought-iron street lights and gnarly gray oaks, a hundred years old at least, line the driveway and beds of just-bloomed pansies splotch the wide green lawn.

A person can have more than one home and I have left one to come to another. I have left Sandhill to come to Wesleyan.

It has been thirty years since I accepted my real sheepskin diploma and carefully moved the purple and white tassel to the other side of my mortar board. Thirty years since I said goodbye to this place, but, being a good daughter, I have punctuated that thirty years with frequent visits and careful attention. I look around and it is as if I never left.

Soon I am roused from my reverie by the screeching and hugging and touching of arriving classmates. I am so glad to be the first one here. So glad to do the welcoming.

There are huge smiles that look absolutely no different from the ones I remember except for the tiny lines that form at the corners of their eyes, lines that look nothing like crows' feet and everything like sunbursts.

Each of these women has moved her own personal heaven and earth to be here, to be in what is – to us at least – a sacred place, a cathedral of red brick and arched doorways and marble columns. A place where we sang the hymns and recited the creeds and fulfilled the prophecies that said, "This is who you will be."

On Saturday night, after all the formal events – the board elections and award presentations and campus tours – we gather at the home of one of our classmates. The backyard is lit with candlelight that softens the edges of everything, including our aging faces. A handful of us gather around a table to catch up, to exchange stories.

One of the Janets tells us how she made her way back to the love of her life 30 years after meeting him for the first time, how she inherited his daughter as her own and how, yes, she did think she would burst with pride as, just that morning, she had helped induct that daughter into the Wesleyan Alumnae Association. We are all beaming. Starbursts are at the corners of our eyes again.

And it is at that moment that I understand. Understand that we come back home for the stories. We come back to tell our own and to hear those of our sisters. Because it is in the telling and in the hearing that each of us learns this great truth: There is only one story – the story of birth and growth, of struggle and loss, of transformation and redemption.

In a few hours I, we will be headed to our other homes. I, we will pick up where we left off, open the book at the bookmark and begin again. I take one last look at the sweet sweet faces of the girls I have watched become women and this is what I think: They knew me at 17 and now, at three times that, it becomes clear that they still do.

It is a rare comfort in a world we treat as though it were disposable to come across something that remains, that persists, that stays. Within the arms of my alma mater, my "nourishing mother," I have found such a thing. It is the truth of story and the authentic life that results from its telling.

Copyright 2008

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