Though one cannot always remember exactly why one has been happy, there is no forgetting that one was. (from Good-bye to the Mezzogiorno by W.H. Auden)
I am writing this in the blessed coolness of my hotel room as I recover from a long, hot, and humid but nevertheless fun and illuminating day on the campus of Georgetown University, where we are attending John’s 30 year reunion
I’ve written about other reunions here, here, here, here, and here, and I may yet write up this one in a play-by-play fashion, including all the many pictures I’ve been taking. But this is not that post.
No, today I want to write about thoughts and feelings while they are still fresh in my mind. I feel like I’ve been having a somewhat profound experience and since I’m not–alas–18 any more, I’m afraid I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down.
We are staying in the Key Bridge Marriott, which is relevant because 30 years ago I was a waitress in the restaurant here. And now I’m staying in a room on the 7th floor, so I’ve both literally and figuratively moved up! And of course I’ve told every single person I’ve interacted with in the hotel about my association with it–partly to explain why I am openly staring strangely at things (because a lot has changed in 20 years, y’all!).
Anyway, what I noticed last night as we were eating our late dinner in the hotel bar was that I was giddily happy. Couldn’t-stop-smiling-happy. And I remember that I USED TO BE LIKE THAT ALL THE TIME.
I’m not like that all the time any more. In fact, I am hardly ever like that. If I’m tipsy, maybe, or I’m excited about flowers blooming at the beginning of spring. But being super cheerful used to be an intrinsic part of who I was to the point that I remember writing an essay about it. I’m always telling my kids (and other people lucky enough to be the object of my sanctimonious rants) that being happy is NOT the point of life. And I do believe that, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t WANT to be happy. Where did this dour person come from and how can I get that giddy girl back?
We spent most of today in lectures, because that’s how geeky Georgetown grads are. We come back to school to have more school. And also to remember when we used to sit around having smart thoughts and intelligent discussions for fun. We had several such conversations with total strangers today which is a thing you can do at Georgetown because literally everyone is an intellectual and says words like hermeneutic and heuristic and expects you will understand.
I surprised myself by being able to stay mostly awake for all the lectures, even though I was actually sitting down in the middle of the afternoon. They were all wonderful and maybe I will tell you more about them later, but for now I want to focus on some of my takeaways from the last two.
Professor Glavin of the English Department, whose classes I somehow missed when I was an undergrad, talked about a memoir he’d written and in that context told us that we shouldn’t berate ourselves for all our life decisions. That most of the time we make good decisions, the best ones we can make with the information available to us. That we just don’t have access to all the information, because that’s how life is. That life is a series of parabolas, with upward arcs leading inevitably to failures, that maybe we learn from before we start the next one. That was comforting, his next point less so: that our lives are crossed by meridians–moments of before and after–and that we can never go back across them. He was talking not just of his book but very obviously of what he expected many of us might be feeling as we attended a reunion at a very different Georgetown from the one we remembered.
From here we went to another lecture that focused on personal development and on finding your purpose. We were asked to think about moments when we were happy, really in the moment, feeling a sense of “flow.” Frankly I was getting a little sleepy so I didn’t get everything that was being said, but I was left with an impression that goes along well with some other work I’ve been doing lately on spiritual gifts (about which more later)–that everyone needs to be doing work that fulfills their special purpose. If they don’t, they will never really be happy OR successful.
The first half or maybe more of my life is over (which is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time). I can’t go back to my college days (obviously), but I need to figure out what I am supposed to be doing with the rest of my life–and even more important, how to find the time to do that. Maybe that will bring some of my giddiness back too. We shall see.