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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.

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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 attended.

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.

john and leslie at Georgetown Reunion

Standing in the spot where we first met

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. . . is where I am, after the 500-mile drive from Georgetown earlier today.  Everything was fine while we were gone, and I’ve already washed a load of laundry and cooked two pounds of bacon.

But I’ll back up just a bit to this morning, when we arrived on campus to attend the All Class Farewell Mass, which is always held in Gaston Hall.

Gaston Hall IS Georgetown to me.  It’s an ornate room that continues to impress me as much as it did the first time I saw it in 1985.  When I’m there, I think of all the other times I was there–for six (I think) Reunion masses now, but also for at least one Mass of the Holy Spirit, for Cherry Tree Massacre, for hypnotist Tom DeLuca, for the mandatory viewing of The Exorcist during Freshman Orientation, and more formal occasions that I no longer recall.  But it’s also always new to me, because it so richly detailed that I discover more every time I visit.

From the motto of the Jesuits emblazoned behind the stage to the many sayings of famous wise men that adorn the walls to the seals of all the Jesuit Universities from across the world, it’s a feast for the eyes and the mind.  It is a joy to be in the room, and more of a joy to attend Mass there, especially with John, who was not Catholic when he attended Georgetown and certainly attributes his openness to becoming one to his experience of the Jesuits.

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The Eucharist is the source and the summit of all that we do as Catholics, and the Reunion Mass is the summit of the weekend for me.  I worry sometimes at the naysayers who proclaim Georgetown is not “Catholic enough,” until I come back and see and feel how very Catholic it is.  Father Kevin O’Brien (a classmate of John’s), who had earlier given the lecture on the Church in the 21st century, was the celebrant, and a few other Jesuits joined in, among them Father Bill McFadden, who was my first theology professor and of whom I was absolutely terrified.  Jack DeGioia, the first lay President of the university, gave a reflection after Communion.

President DeGioia recalled a Gospel of a few weeks prior and reminded us that we are to be living stones, building a spiritual house, out in the world.  He said he wished that the most recent graduates could be with us so that they could see the profound impact their Georgetown experience will have on their futures.  When Father O’Brien dismissed us, reminding us that the word “Mass” derives from the Latin for sending forth, we were filled with the sense of mission that Georgetown attempts to inspire in its students.

We enjoyed a very nice brunch afterwards under the tent on Copley Lawn, and after a last-minute bathroom break to prepare for the long drive home, we spent our last few moments sitting right outside one of the doors to the Healy Building.  The year I graduated–Georgetown’s Bicentennial Year–a mosaic of the University Seal was installed in front of this door.  Apparently it has become a Georgetown tradition not to step on the seal, and you could tell the students and more recent (than me!) alums by whether they skirted the seal or walked across it.  It was sweet to hear one young guy explaining to his preschooler that “we never, ever step on it.”

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And then it was time to start for home . . . grateful for the weekend, and even more grateful for our Georgetown years.

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So, no, we didn’t make it back to campus at 10 a.m.  And John wasn’t ready to leave and I was chomping at the bit.  So  left him at the hotel and walked to Georgetown by myself.

It’s about a mile to campus from the hotel in Rosslyn, Virginia where we are staying.  It involves crossing the Key Bridge, and that’s a trip I’ve made hundreds of times.  There’s no Metro stop in Georgetown, so any time we wanted to go somewhere by subway we walked to Rosslyn.  We also used to walk over occasionally to visit the McDonald’s, since there wasn’t one (still isn’t) in Georgetown.  But the majority of my bridge-crossing took place starting in the summer of 1988, for two reasons:  I had a job as a waitress at the Key Bridge Marriott, and John had graduated and moved into an apartment on the other side of the bridge.

So it was a nostalgic little journey for me this morning, and made even better by the extraordinary weather we are having.  Y’all, usually it’s in the 90s already by now and the humidity makes you remember that D.C. is built over a swamp.  But it was in the 70s today and breezy.  Good thing, too, because while walking across the bridge is easy, walking up the hill to Georgetown from there is a bit harder, and the first thing I did was stop at Wisemiller’s to get a bottle of water.

You know what I did then?  Absolutely nothing.  I planted myself on a bench in front of Copley (the last dorm I lived in) and sat for an hour soaking up the atmosphere and watching people walk by.

Copley Hall

Copley Hall

I talked to my roommate (who did not attend the Reunion) later in the day and she asked how it felt to be back and my answer was, “Not all that different.”  I think that’s one of the things I love about coming back–it’s exciting to be there but also familiar.  It’s a place I know and feel comfortable with, even though there are always some changes and some new things to see.  And of course it does take me back to that time and those memories, but I’m still the same person after all.  Right?

I did visit the bookstore to buy a t-shirt and pick up some snacks before John joined me, and then we went to another lecture.  This one was on The Church in the 21st Century, and was mostly about Pope Francis, which was great because you’ve probably gathered by now that I absolutely love Pope Francis.  Then we walked around and explored.  We went inside the oldest building–1792–on campus, which I think was used for storage in our day but is now a meditation center.  We also went into the Copley Crypt Chapel which for some reason I had never been inside.  And we visited the awesome new performing arts center which has two theatres and classrooms and offices and is a pretty amazing addition to campus.

Icon in Copley Crypt

Icon in Copley Crypt

Copley Crypt Detal

Copley Crypt Detal

Copley Crypt Detail

Copley Crypt Detail

The next event was called Love on the Hilltop and it was a reception at the Alumni House held in honor of those of us who met our spouses at Georgetown.  They even gave us champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Isn’t that romantic?

And then we met up with my dear friend Tom.  Tom lived on the first floor of New North freshman year when I lived on the fourth floor.  He and Renee (my roommate) and I dyed Easter eggs on the fire escape.  We danced to Madonna’s Get into the Groove as part of a pre-exam ritual.  We cooked many a stir fry supper.  Tom and I spent a summer making beds together as employees of summer housing.  We have lots of memories and it was wonderful to see him.

John and I had dinner at The Tombs.  It’s a Georgetown tradition, but one that I didn’t take up until after a graduated, because I was kind of a nerd in college honestly.  So we’ve gone there almost every Reunion.  Do you know that restaurants up here are much more crowded and noisy than the ones back home?  I wonder why that is.

We meandered back towards the garage where we left our car last night, stopping for about an hour just to sit and talk and BE here.  And also to make that aforementioned call to the roommate and to tell her she MUST come to the next Reunion.  Now we are back in our hotel room for an evening of reading, quiet, coolness, and rest.  Tomorrow is the farewell Mass and brunch and then it’s back to Tennessee.

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If y’all don’t understand the title, it’s the first line of Georgetown’s fight song, which is the best fight song ever.  Seriously, it is.  One of my college housemates once went to some kind of Catholic Youth conference where everyone sang their school’s fight song, and everyone there agreed it was the best.  You can hear it here.

Why does that matter exactly?  Because as I write I am concluding the first day of my 25th Reunion.  I wrote about John’s last year–lucky us, we get to go two years in a row!  So at the moment I’m on the 14th floor of the Hyatt in Rosslyn, which is right across the Key Bridge from Georgetown, while my kids are back in Knoxville doing God knows what. (No, I’m kidding, I did make various arrangements for their care and feeding before I left.)

Words cannot express (won’t stop me writing lots and lots of words!) how much I love Georgetown.  Maybe everyone feels the same way about their Alma Mater, I don’t know.  But I just start grinning goofily the minute the place comes into view (a little different from the way I just about burst into tears when it came into view in August 1985 when my family was getting ready to drop me off there!).

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We fought through the 5 o’clock traffic (and if you live in Knoxville and think you know anything about traffic, you just don’t!) yesterday to arrive around six, with just enough time to freshen up and get back into the car to fight traffic some more to go have some wine at my friend Crystal’s house.  Crystal was one of my housemates sophomore year, which was when John and I started dating, so she was a witness to all of the drama and lovesickness of those early days.  We had a super time seeing her house and then eating dinner at a wonderful neighborhood restaurant and reminiscing as well as talking about politics.  Crystal actually talks about politics on CNN!  She has a blog called Conservative Black Chick and I’m more of a moderate-to-liberal white chick, but we get along all the same. 🙂 (By the way, if we ever talked about politics ONCE the year we lived together, I certainly don’t remember it.  We were too busy watching Moonlighting and drinking.)

We slept in this morning and got to Georgetown a little after one.  After we registered for the events we plan to attend (not many of them, because $150 EACH is more than I care to spend on anything that doesn’t last longer than one night, and that’s how much the big evening party costs) we headed for the first lecture, which was a panel on the History of Georgetown, which I won’t bore you with except did you know that Georgetown is the first Catholic university in the United States and that it was founded the same year the Constitution was written and that it was chartered by Congress?  We heard all about that and more, and then it was time for the second lecture.  This one was called The Problem of God, which is a course that is required for Georgetown Freshmen, and it made us feel so smart to listen to all this deep philosophical/theological stuff.  We went to school here and learned about all these things once.  We must have been pretty smart.  But raising teenagers will make the smartest person feel like an idiot, believe me.

After the lectures and a trip to see the newly renovated Dahlgren Chapel, we found a bench on the lawn in front of the Healy Building and just sat for a good hour, soaking up the atmosphere of the place where we were young.  So far, besides Crystal, I haven’t seen except in passing anyone that I knew from school.  I haven’t kept up with a lot of people, and most of those I have for one reason or another aren’t making the trip this time.  But it’s really enough just to have a Reunion with Georgetown itself.  Just being here does something for us, reminds us of what we were 25 years ago and what we still are underneath.

Dahlgren Chapel Window

Dahlgren Chapel Window

View of the Healy Building from Dahlgren

View of the Healy Building from Dahlgren

Finally we got up and walked to Wisconsin Avenue, to take a look around and get a bite to eat.  We went to Martin’s Tavern, an old favorite of John’s and one thing in Georgetown that is older than we are–it’s been here since 1933!  Then we walked all the way back to our hotel–just a beautiful walk with the sun setting over the Potomac and so many interesting things  to see in every direction.

My classmates are partying under a tent on campus, and I’ve chosen a quiet evening in the hotel, blogging.  That’s a real treat for me though!  We are supposed to be back on campus tomorrow at 10 a.m.  I will let you know if we make it!

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Part III

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We had a big morning planned (two lectures and a tour) but we kind of forgot about it and slept in instead.  We had to take a cab to make it to Georgetown in time for the Family Picnic (which we would totally have bagged too except we had already paid for it).  The food was good, though.  We chilled (Or tried to chill.  It’s in the freaking 90s here and the humidity is around 85%.  I mean it is brutal.)  for awhile until time for this afternoon’s panel discussion: Cementing a Legacy:  Analyzing a Second Term President (do we Georgetown grads know how to party of what?).

This thing was held in the brand-new business school building which is all stone and old-fashioned looking on the outside and all glassy and modern inside, and the reason they were holding the discussion in the fancy building was because C-Span was filming it!  And you know, it was really an interesting panel but I woke up with a headache and the medicine I take for that knocks me out completely.  It just does.  So if you watch C-Span don’t think that sleepy woman in the audience isn’t FULLY CAPABLE of following the nuances of the conversation.  She’s just on drugs, okay?

One of the graduates in the audience asking a question was just completely obnoxious.  He made me remember that I went to school with a fair amount of obnoxious people back in the day.  How shall I put this delicately?  Let’s just say, there are not many folks of the Southern persuasion here.  And I am back to being used to my polite and friendly fellow Southerners, after twenty-five years away from this place.

And have I mentioned the heat?  Yes, it does get hot at home.  But it cools off at night.  And there’s less asphalt and concrete.  Or something.  We are walking along like we are REALLY old, just not kind of old.  I’m telling you, it is sapping all of our energy.  We’re longing for our hotel room at about eight, and when we were here in school we didn’t even START partying until after that.  Things are later here.  That’s something I forgot.  You can walk into a restaurant at seven and get a seat, no problem.  It’s at eight that things are busy.  That’s backward from Knoxville.

But different is good, right?  So after the panel we went for another walk, this time down Wisconsin Avenue.  Most things we remember are gone, but my favorite ice cream place–Thomas Sweets–is still there!  Then we retrieved our car from the parking garage where we left it over night at less than half the price our hotel wants–take THAT, Melrose Hotel! and went driving into Virginia to visit some of our old haunts there, including a favorite restaurant from the year we lived here after we were married.  Then we took the car back to Georgetown and took another little walk around campus–short walks are much more manageable in the heat.

We ended up in the library.  This is a place where I spent a LOT of time, folks.  Not because I was studying.  I never once went there to study.  I worked there, though, at the circulation desk, for 12-15 hours every week for four years.  It’s so fancy-schmancy that I don’t even recognize it now, but the reading room next door is EXACTLY the same.  I think even the furniture is the same–it sure looks like it.  And the books that line the walls–books I’m pretty sure no one even opens any more–are encyclopedias.  Encyclopedias about everything–art, music, history.  Also the Oxford English Dictionary.  And all kinds of guides to periodical literature.  The kids probably sit there and laugh while they look all that up on their iPhones.  But I’m glad they haven’t thrown away the books yet.

We took a cab back to the hotel and now we are trying to work up the energy to go back downstairs and take a hike to the White House–seven whole blocks away.  Will we make it?  Find out tomorrow . . .

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

EDIT: Tomorrow never came apparently, because for some reason I never wrote THE REST OF THE STORY.  We did, however, go out that evening for a little walk and stared at the White House, and got ourselves a snack at Old Ebbitt Grill, which is one of those old places where the movers and shakers eat.

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