I’d guess that being a ghost is a strange experience, to say the least, and yet this weekend I think I got an idea of what it must be like.
The occasion was the annual reunion weekend at my alma mater over in central New Jersey. So I decided to go; after all, I had nothing better to do that day, and sometimes you never know who will show up. Could be friends that you haven’t seen in years. It tends to be hit and miss at this particular school. Some years are better than others.
This time, it was very weird. Almost surreal. From a weather standpoint, it was a hot, sunny day, perfect for this kind of thing. The campus was fairly active, with all manner of tents set up and people waiting in line for hot dogs, burgers and the more spirited offerings from the makeshift tiki bar.
I went to a couple of events of special interest to me, one a reunion for people who had been part of the campus weekly newspaper over the years, and another for all communications alumni in general. While I saw some of my old professors, and a number of other alumni showed up (many either younger than me or considerably older), there was nobody from my particular “generation” — nobody who shared the experience of having been on the campus during the years that I was there.
I had always prided myself on having a certain amount of school spirit. It had been an important place for four years of my life — four wonderful years — and I felt it was important to try to go back and visit as often as I could.
And this time, as I so often felt like a solitary observer everywhere, with nobody around from “my” college life to catch up or reminisce with, I suddenly realized — after what must have been many years of denial — that it was really over, long since over — and my old friends and classmates all knew it.
All but me.
After 15 years, you’re not just fresh out of school and still hanging out often as if it was the old days anymore. You now have spouses, children, new lives. Many have no doubt moved away, out of state, to pursue new careers and opportunities.
And that old connection, that spark, that yearning for the fun and excitement of your formative years is gone. Forever.
I walked around campus, watching others get reacquainted and feeling, oddly, like either I wasn’t really there, or that the place itself had moved on and held nothing for me anymore, and that I just had not realized it. And it was at about this point that I half-expected M. Night Shyamalan to pop out from behind a corner somewhere and tell me I was dead already.
Dead in the sense that I was trying to revisit and rekindle a time in my life that is now long past. A time that, sadly, can never be again.
And that knowledge, certain as it is, does nothing to stem the occasional longing to go back and live those days again, to do them better, to right the wrongs and seize the opportunities you should have but didn’t.
The school still exists, but it has moved on. You can revisit it, but you feel more out of place each time, and eventually you know someday you’ll go back and no one will recognize or remember you. All you have is your memories, and they are the only thing that can make you certain that you really did belong to that campus community and made some kind of a difference in its life, once upon a time. To those there now, you’re just a solitary presence wandering aimlessly, an idle daydreamer trying to recapture the happy times of long ago.