ghosts – noun | \ˈgōsts\
: the soul of a dead person thought of as living in an unseen world or as appearing to living people
I sat next to my husband surrounded by ghosts. Actually, they were college students and professors, but sitting in Rediger Chapel at Taylor University with my husband and stepson was like traveling through time only to collide with my past self. We were on a college visit, and though I wanted this day to be about our son and his future, I couldn’t help seeing my past all around me.
On the drive over to Upland, we talked about the college, its particular academic life, and how the campus is organized both geographically and philosophically. Over and over I’d say, “At least that’s how it was when I was a student,” knowing that it was probably very different all these years later.
When we actually arrived on campus and began talking with students, taking the tour, and visiting a class, I discovered very little had changed. It’s true that many of the professors I studied under are now gone. There also are several new buildings on campus, and the technology that intersects with the daily life of the university hadn’t even been invented when I was there. But the traditions, the university culture, the “feel” of the place had hardly changed at all.
Those students walking towards the dining commons? They could have been me and my friends. The buzz before and after chapel as the community gathered together in one place? That could have been my community gathering two decades ago. The way students who aren’t even part of the admissions welcome team greeted us around campus? That could have been me welcoming prospective students when I was an undergrad.
Surrounded by so much familiarity, I couldn’t help but think about the younger me that lived in English Hall, spent many nights in the student union working on the campus newspaper, complained about the dining commons food, and longed for a future … a future that looks remarkably similar to my life now. When I realized this, standing next to my husband in the middle of chapel surrounded by the ghosts of Taylor past, I began to cry. I wish I could go back and tell her, I thought. I wish I could go back and tell her things all work out.
But if I told her “you get the husband, you get the family, you get the career and the satisfying life,” and if I told her “you stay in touch with some of these friends” and “your faith endures” and “God remains faithful, just as you hoped” and if she felt buoyed and comforted and motivated by that, I’d feel compelled to also tell her this: “… but it’s not always easy.”
You get married, but after decades of singleness.
You’ll have a family, but you never bear children.
You will be a writer, but you spend years doing other jobs.
You stay in touch with friends, but not all of them.
Your faith endures, but with much doubt.
God remains faithful, but often he will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death.
But how could I tell her that?
Maybe that’s why we can’t really go back. Maybe that’s why all these letters to our younger selves are more about the places we’ve been and the things we’ve learned than about avoiding past pain or minimizing the hardships. I would no more dump the burdens or joys of the past 25 years on my 20-year-old self than I could stand to carry the burdens and joys of the next 25 years right now. It’s too much for any younger self to bear. A life must be lived over a lifetime, however long that is, not in an instant, and not just in the past … or the future.
By the end of our visit to Taylor, after we’d driven and walked around most of the campus, after we’d stuffed ourselves with the buffet-style lunch options, after we’d talked with professors and admissions counselors and students, after we’d bought t-shirts at the bookstore and ice cream at Ivanhoe’s, I did my best not to gush when our son gave Taylor the thumbs up. He’s just a junior now, and he’s got other options — other good options — he’s considering. And Taylor, just like any college, isn’t for everyone.
But if my stepson does decide to make Taylor his home for four years, it will be his experience to enjoy and contend with, not mine. Those people sitting with him in chapel won’t be ghosts; they’ll be his friends and classmates and professors. And no matter how much things change or stay the same, it will be his college life to live one day at a time.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
Great news! We have a winner. Sharon G. will receive a copy of Megan Willome’s book, The Joy of Poetry, after she commented on the post a couple of weeks ago. My apologies for the delay in announcing the winner. A bad case of the flu and then bronchitis has me behind.
Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.