How can we process into the future without a recapitulation of the past? We surge into the future because sometimes, we are afraid of our past catching up with us. Fleeing the past is an occasional phenomenon because there are other times when we treasure the past because of how wonderful it was. Nonetheless, we are sometimes afraid of the past whether it was traumatic or beautiful. We fear traumatic memories haunting us. We fear beautiful moments saddening us because we know that we will never possess that moment again.
I dry my tears after an episode of mourning my college years. People will cope by saying that change is inevitable and that nothing can be done to slow the movement of time. Another statement said to help people cope is that we shouldn’t focus on the past, but be grateful for who the past has made us to be so that we may move forward.
My current response to the former statements is that I don’t want to move forward. I am currently unable to step into my next phase of life without attempting to embrace the past, particularly my college years. In my current state of mourning, I want to love everything about my time at Gordon College, including the hurtful times. I want to be able to do that before I accept the future is a reality that I must participate in.
What is it about the past that I seek to celebrate before I become hopeful for my future? One of them is my innocence, which is when times were happier and less violent. When I began at Gordon, my world was structured and understood. My evangelical faith had provided me with all the answers I needed regardless of whether the topic was or wasn’t about myself. I secured an evasion of my past life and ascertained a sure plan for the future. My entire identity was found in my commitment to God and I adored Gordon College and all that it had to offer. I was opposed to partying, sex, drinking, and other acts that are treated as taboo by many Christians. (For the record, I am not saying that I am now approving of all those things, I was just more intensely opposed to them at that time).
Although I now see life through different lenses, I do not feel resentful or embarrassed about my old self. I had less awareness of my masculine, white, cis-gendered self. With a lack of this awareness, I dominated spaces with a hyper-masculine boisterousness, I was more controlling of others, and I felt entitled to what I had acquired (which are things that I still do at times). Part of why I don’t look upon that time as a misstep is because I had met individuals who loved me for my flaws and my gifts. These were people who understood my thought process, made sense of what I believed, and listened to me when they couldn’t figure me out. My life, at this point, was less strenuous and I was able to celebrate life with the people around me. It is true that I shared similar life experiences and belief systems as many of these individuals, but also, we remained friends when life became more difficult and varied for us all.
A couple years into my college career is when my life changed because my beliefs changed. My love for the evangelical God dissipated. All that I cherished about myself began to crumble and I looked to be remade. In my loss of identity, I began to learn more about the world and society. In an effort to transition away from my old beliefs and pursue new beliefs, I adopted new practices that helped give me meaning and purpose. These practices and virtues that I became enamored with were resistance, endurance, anxiety and conflict. I found the need to resist and participate in conflict because of my growing realization of the “messed upedness” of this world. Although conflict and resistance are labeled as terrifying by our blissful, consumerist society, it is not to be forgotten that I found meaning in these things. What was even more beautiful was that along this journey was that various individuals walked alongside me. There were those that been there when my world was orderly and clean who had remained a constant in my life. Then, there were those that I met for the first time, but shared similar sentiments as mine, which brought us together.
Just like the first couple years of my college years, I look upon the final two with similar appreciation. The presence of my friends alleviated the violence that would have been needed to cause me to hate my time at Gordon. Of course, times were shitty, but not to the point that I have felt like I wasted years of my life. Some of my fondest memories are when some of us came together to “resist” the institution that was squeezing the life out of us. It should be understood, however, that my last two years of college weren’t completely awful. There were many joyful moments with my RA staffs, Northern Ireland groups, residents in Fulton, house mates up in Gloucester and other friends. What’s different about these last two years was that I was a less “happy,” optimistic person. Nonetheless, these individuals created a space for me to be myself.
It doesn’t matter whether life was known and ordered or whether life was unknown and chaotic. All of it is dear to me in memory because of the spirits that were kindred to me during the most transformative period of my life. The people that I will meet will not fully understand my life-changing experiences and thus, not fully understand me because they weren’t present with me like my Gordon family was. I will exert tremendous enthusiasm when meeting new people, but I must acknowledge that my friends from Gordon will reserve a unique place in my memory.
This piece is about celebration. I celebrate the bliss, the evangelical God, the prudishness, the anger, the hopelessness, the loss and the victories. Moreover, I mourn those things. I mourn them because as they happened, you were there to observe that happening. (When I say you, I am referring to all of those who know who you are). I miss every part of to, no matter the circumstances, because every part of it involved you. No matter what comes to be, I will feel a sense of loss because we won’t be in each other’s presence the way we once were.
I don’t mean to be dramatic or selfish in my speech. I thought the best way to explain what you all have meant to me is by describing how you have entered into my life and subsequently impacted it.