I first walked across Grinnell College’s campus for a high school church retreat. I didn’t choose to attend the school because of that week, but when I was making the final decision between similar schools it probably had some influence. This week I’m back on campus for my 15 year reunion. Christer and I are showing Toby around campus and telling stories about our college years (“Before I was born?” “Yes, before you were born.”), catching up with old friends, and revisiting college memories.
I spent four formative years at Grinnell, and yet there’s one place on campus that makes me think of the summer week in high school. For you Grinnellians, it’s the little brick paved space with wooden benches out front of Younker. It was where our group from Missouri held our vespers at the church retreat. Although my college years completely overshadow that one week, there’s something about that little space that belongs to high school. It was a sacred space.
I still get chills every time I walk past—and every time those chills make me shake my head with amusement. I walked past those benches every day for four years without incident, why does that space still call out to me?
Memories are so concentrated here. It’s a small campus and I spent a relatively small chunk of my life here. Every corner holds a ghost, a story, a memory. Some of the memories are just plain fun—but several make me catch my breath in awe. Places of worship, perhaps, but also the place where a friend broke down in tears because of something I said, the classroom where my world got bigger as I listened to a new perspective, the bench where I remember sharing a pint of ice cream with friends on a muggy evening. Small places where the world shifted, and I came away changed.
Reunion is about stories and memories. And drinking. (Is that a red solo cup full of wine in the stroller’s cup holder? I think it is.) But I keep attending because it is also my little pilgrimage to my sacred spaces. When I’m here I remember the hope and excitement of being young. I remember the closeness of friendships and the way we pulled each other into adulthood. In little glimpses I remember what it meant to be a part of a community.
After my five year reunion, I came away frustrated that a weekend together didn’t bring back the community I remembered. Now I leave reunions inspired, and ready to do the work of building up sacred spaces in the community I now call home.