Friday, October 11, 2013

The Spirit of a Place

I spent the weekend in Irving, Texas at the 25th year reunion of my graduating class (University of Dallas, 1988).  I've written about preparing to go the reunion but I don't think I've ever expressed what I'm about to say.  It took a meditative and solitary swing on a contraption outside Blakely Library (now the College of Business building) on Sunday evening for me to start to process what I thought of everything and how I saw myself fitting in to the whole scene.

First, I have to say that I had a great time at the reunion.  I have been so blessed in my life to know many wonderful people whom I met at UD.  Many of my friendships today have their origins in Catherine Hall or Jerome Hall or the Hotel La Villa (103 Via del Pescaccio), or the student apartments, or, even (heaven help me) Old Mill apartments.  I reconnected with some old friends and also talked at more length to some people whom I knew in school but didn't really click with.  I'm happy to say that they are all still as interesting and vital as they were decades ago.  Some of us are with God now and their loss is felt deeply.  Some of us have been scarred literally and figuratively by the intervening years.  And yet.  And yet.  There is still the kernel of the person, the child really, who came to UD ready to learn, to encounter life and knowledge in all its fullness.

I know that the kernel of that person is still within me.  I've really struggled at times in my life to retain a sense of wonder and joy in the every day.  I've struggled to be grateful for who I am, how I am, what I like.  I know that I've always been a bit unusual (the scarf-wearing, novel-writing days of high school, for example -- what was I thinking?). But sometimes it's really difficult to be so far out of the mainstream, especially in situations where everyone is pretty much out of the mainstream.  I mean, how weird do you have to be to feel marginalized in a group that happily included a guy who welded aerodynamic fins to his car one summer to see if it would improve the gas mileage between Pittsburgh and Dallas?  A real, bona fide scientific experiment which I remember hearing about in the cafeteria line  the first day back at school sophomore year.  To this day, I'm in awe that someone thought of this and actually DID it.  The guy was a senior when I was a sophmore -- don't remember his name, but do remember his experiment!

Anyway, there were points during the reunion where I felt so alienated and so sad.  So marginal.  At the Friday night party in the Gas Monkey (owned by a classmate and super duper cool) and at the Saturday night party in upstairs Haggar, few people asked me anything about my life or my husband, my children, or the work I'm doing.  Some people I talked to already knew a lot about me from my evidently amusing Facebook posts so I am sure they thought they already had heard what I had to say -- and maybe they were right (I recognize my own tedium sometimes!)  The "sidebar" conversations I had with individuals at breakfast, in Haggar, on the Mall, or in the Rathskellar were much more fulfilling, so maybe it's just a function of large social group dynamics.

But I'm at a happy place in my life in terms of accomplishments, yet I couldn't share them.  I found myself at points wishing I was just back at the hotel or even back at home. I know that much of that was coming from inside myself.  I'm an introvert and social situations are stressful to me.  I don't like to tout my own accomplishments and I much prefer to prompt others to talk than to really share what's going on with me.  But I still want to be rescued from my own introversion sometimes, you know?

On Sunday night, after all the brouhaha was over, I went back to campus, to my favorite spot -- one in which I spent a lot of time -- the Church of the Incarnation.  To me, it is a really beautiful church.

I especially love the Eucharistic Adoration chapel.  It brings me peace and was where I had the first of my God smacks:

One thing that really struck me was that, as I walked out of the church and up to the Mall (where I found my swing contraption and thought deep thoughts, about which more later), I noticed a student sitting on a little bench outside the church where there was a statue of the Blessed Virgin.  All was quiet -- it was about 5:30 in the evening.  This young guy was quietly praying the rosary.  No fanfare.  No "look at me praying".  No "let's go say a communal rosary".  Instead, a quiet moment of contemplation and prayer.  Books piled to one side, probably left over from an afternoon spent in the library. And I was filled with such gratitude to have been able to be in a place where this was not ridiculed or alien.  Where prayer was as integrated into campus life as much as studying, writing papers, drinking beer, and going to Club Schmitz was.  

So, despite my ridiculous melancholy, I am so grateful to have had this weekend.  I love that I'm a UD graduate.  I am grateful to my classmates for helping me to become who I am today.  I'm grateful to UD for giving me space to be a brainiac without shame.  And for introducing so much to my life that I love now.  I am grateful to have been shown a model early in my life where faith was not just affective or subjective, but part of a rich, millenia old tradition of reason and learning. 

Go Crusaders!

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