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Posts Tagged ‘Washington D.C.’

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!

Part II

Part III

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Georgetown's founder Bishop John Carroll in front of the Healy Buiding.

Georgetown’s founder Bishop John Carroll in front of the Healy Buiding.

So this is where I am today!

Twenty-five years ago (yes, that does constitute an actual lifetime!) John graduated from Georgetown University, and we are here for his Reunion.  (He’s older than me.  We just won’t discuss when my 25-year Reunion will be.  Until I blog about it next May.)

This is the final installment of the two months of travel, celebration, fun, and stress that I wrote about two months ago.  (Did you notice I kind of stopped blogging for the duration?) But this is by far the less stressful occasion, and do you know why?  We are here BY OURSELVES.  Yes, we took advantage of the fact that three of our kids are adults, at least technically, and abandoned the little ones to their care.  So here we are, just like the old days.

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Except we are older and fatter.

We aren’t staying on campus this time because it now costs–I kid you not–$180 a night to stay in a DORM ROOM and after all the time I spent cleaning Village C (a whole summer scrubbing toilets and making beds) they ought to be paying ME to stay there.  So I scored us a four star hotel on Hotwire for a two star price because we are GROWNUPS.  It’s a mile and a half away and we are busily coming up with ways to avoid paying $45 (yes you read that right) a NIGHT to park at the hotel, so we left the car at Georgetown last night and walked back, which was not so bad if it weren’t for my uncomfortable shoes and the 90 degree heat.  I used to routinely walk from Georgetown to the Mall and the monuments and the Smithsonians, and sometimes did round trips of ten miles, so I can handle this, right?

As grownups, we decided to go to the grownup restaurant last night too.  While all John’s classmates were attending a raucous celebration in the Tombs, we stayed upstairs at 1789, where we had never been.  It was awesome enough to make up for being older, fatter, and greyer, seriously.  It’s dim and old world and all the waiters have French accents which they are not faking.  Every item was exquisite, from the amuse bouche to the coffee. (Fair Trade, French press) Maybe by next year we will have saved up enough money to go there again.

On the agenda for today were lectures and receptions on campus.  Because this is Georgetown the lectures have names like “The State of Security: Balancing Foreign Relations with Domestic Concerns” and the receptions have free wine and beer and actual food enough to make a meal of (as some enterprising students have been known to do, since no one is checking your i.d. at these things).  We had three lectures planned but we slept in and then ate lunch at Mr. Smith’s instead.  And we did go to one of them.  It was held in one of the few big lecture halls at Georgetown (because most classes are small, y’all!).  This happens to have been where I took “Physics of Energy and the Environment” along with all the members of the basketball team and many other non-scientists.  Today’s lecture was much more inspiring, I promise.

Tonight we should have been at a tent party.  Except $100 PER PERSON is a lot to pay to party under a tent in 90 degree weather.  I can get drunk for a LOT less than that, should I want to.  I didn’t like tent parties when I was 21 and my opinion hasn’t changed.  It probably doesn’t help that the last one I attended as an undergrad ended with me vomiting in the grass and then returning to the apartment and passing out.  So we went down to M Street, had dinner, and walked back to the hotel where we will soon be passing out from heat exhaustion instead of drunkenness.

To Be Continued . . .

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