During my time in Princeton, I didn’t understand reunions.
To me, it just meant that fences were erected in the most inconvenient places, and our beautiful campus was now rank with beer-soaked grass.
The year I graduated, reunions was simply a long runway of parties leading to graduation.
I danced barefoot on wooden boards sandwiched between sweaty bodies, not even minding because I was too busy remembering how the strobe lights fell across the faces of those I had spent the past four years with.
I’m three years out now.
The fireworks are still magical. They have this strange ability to make me want to stand up and sing “Old Nassau”, the weird arm salute and all.
The grass still reeks of stale beer in the mornings.
And I enjoy being sandwiched in the middle of a dancing mob much more than I thought I would.
The hardest part of reunions for me, though, is how I am forced to reduce the complexities of my past year into a five-minute soundbite, yet one interesting enough to sustain the conversation beyond merely exchanging job descriptions and current geographic locations.
I wish I could get a glimpse into their everyday; they say much more about how they’re really doing beyond ‘good!’ — *smile* — awkward pause — “wait what are you doing now?”
But, I don’t know where to start, what question to ask, which moment I want them to recount.
I too am at a loss of what story I would pick from my past three years, so I give up and return to the well-worn route:
“Grad school at McGill. Materials Engineering,” I smile.
“Cool! And how is that?”
There are a million things I could say.
I wish I could describe what it’s like to wake up in my apartment in Montreal and stir eggs from gelatinous-clear to clumpy-yellow.
I wish they would know that though grad school sounds cool and exciting, I spend a lot of it screwing centrifuge tube caps on, waiting for the familiar whir of the rotor reaching 4500 RPM, pipetting solutions into glass vials.
I wonder where my research is going, doubt if any of it is actually being productive or useful or done right.
I wish I could share how I feel lonely sometimes coming back to my apartment; maybe they feel the same way.
This all would be easier if they just read my blog.
“It’s good. I like it there,” I nod, smile again, “And where are you again?”
See, I can conform to social convention.
This discomfort in summarizing my life in these broad strokes is because real life is found in the mundane, everyday detail.
The problem is that these somewhat contrived conversations highlight only the glamorous big picture (my life is peachy and I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be), and suggest that the unseen moments in between are insignificant.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wisely said.
And in fact, the most distinct memories of my college years that resurface as I walk the campus are not the milestone events that usually mark a college career.
I hardly remember submitting my thesis (I think it was just clicking a few buttons online).
The only thing I remember about my graduation ceremony was how miserably rainy it was and how my square tasselled cap was equally miserable at keeping me dry.
Instead, what returns to me with striking clarity is how the trees rustled and the sunlight fell in strips on McCosh Walk at 9a.m. as I walked to the EQuad for a morning class.
How my legs ached climbing the last flight of steps up the Spelman tower as I promised myself to get in better shape.
The late-meal buzz of the Frist cafeteria, and melodies from the piano on the first floor wafting up the rafters.
I remember the moments in between.
One of the first things I did upon resuming my ordinary life back in Montreal was go to the library and retrieve the book I will be discussing in my summer book club.
It’s called “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, and is honestly one of the most simple yet beautiful pieces of writing I have come across.
It could also have been that my mind was already brimming with these questions of significance in a seemingly ordinary life, and her words were a balm to my soul.
The book traces the unfolding of a very normal day – from waking, to brushing your teeth, to checking your email – and weaves the gospel into what we might see as the dullest threads of the whole darn day.
Without giving away too much of the book (because you need to read it), I will share an excerpt from the foreword by Andy Crouch:
Our moments of exaltation and our stifled yawns – somehow they go together, part of the whole life that we are meant to offer to God day by day, as well as Sunday by Sunday – the life that God has taken into his own life.
It is the life that Christ himself assumed and thus rescued and redeemed.
Christ didn’t just redeem my Sunday mornings when I’m in church worshipping, or the time I spend serving the poor.
He redeemed all of it: the minutes I stand by the stove poking around at my eggs, the hours of endless vortexing, sonicating and pipetting in the lab (yep, that’s what I’m being paid – somewhat- to do), even the restless days when all I feel mentally capable of doing is watching episodes of Friends.
And so, these moments in between are important, holy even.
I’m still working through what it means for the gospel to seep into my days.
Does the gospel change the way I scramble eggs?
I don’t know, but still, an interesting question.
For now, I’m reminding myself that I’m not anxious for the moments to pass by quickly so I can get on to the next big thing.
And hoping that this head-knowledge of “spending my moments in worship” would trickle down to an earthy lived-out reality.
Next year, I’ll be back in Princeton for reunions once again – maybe you could ask me how’s that going.
Then, I’m counting on dancing barefeet on wooden boards, while you tell me how you spent your moments.