Last weekend, I visited the town in which I studied for my undergraduate degree - Cedar Falls. A friend was visiting, whom also went to the school. We had become acquainted by an extension of this association. This extension being a mutual friend, the procurement of some Shackleton Scotch, and taking refuge during the first blizzard of 2019. Naturally, strong bonds are formed on account of the confluence of such events.
The visiting friend and I decided to meet at a bench centered within the campus grounds. A specific bench among a circling of others. An old haunt of ours. Tradition had formed during our time at the university where he, myself, friends, and occasionally friendly strangers would gather to enjoy a late afternoon hour together every Friday.
It was during this hour in which the meeting would start boisterously. It would soon dive into philosophical conversation where we would explore self, the relation of self to others, and the relation of self to the scale of our environment. If there were three or four of us seated, the dive would occur quickly. There were times where a newcomer would join. The dive would typically take a bit longer in these cases as personalities were felt and gleaned.
One of my favorite moments occurred when a good five of us gathered - a computer scientist, a physicist, a chemist, a mathematician, and an exchange student studying English. A group of five peers of the physicist happened across and joined us. Our voices filled the air on a discussion of history.
This was one of the moments being recalled as I approached the bench; holding onto the echo of past discussion. I decided to stall and walk around campus instead of waiting at the bench for the time to meet my friend.
The term "old haunt" was used precisely. Wandering campus was melancholic. Each step a reminder of associations that are no longer at that place and time. Most associations were warm upon reflection. But there was a lingering of association which could have been. These are what made my steps so heavy.
I circled around towards the bench. Still empty.
The top of the hour is about to hit, what am I to do? I dreaded sitting on that bench alone. I absolutely did not want to have a lonely moment with it.
Thankfully, Clayton strolled into view.
We both sat. Instantly reminiscing about the bench. Our discussion went deep quickly. We talked about the lingering heaviness of the campus and made many points on the topic, some of which have now been written here.
This lasted for 20 minutes until another friend, who was familiar with this tradition, surprised us. With him, he brought three newcomers. The tone now much more light and much less serious. Discussion leaning towards the music show Clayton was to put on in a few hours.
The voice of our boisterous conversation filled the air once more. Anyone witnessing the excited verbal murmur would note it being accented by a visual cacophony of flannel, Hawaiian and olive drab. Cowboy hats donned by some; hiking caps by others. There were beards of various shapes and sizes, the most unkempt from one who had just finished hiking the Appalachian trail weeks prior. It was certainly his head on which a hiking cap was resting upon - excited to recount the tales and people encountered during his trek. One of the gentlemen was sporting a cardigan in business casual. Someone who studied philosophy; ready to add extra context to what was being discussed.
It was just like the old times. With this gathering, the heaviness of the campus started to lift.
Another 30 minutes and we stepped away. What ensued was a night of good music, good drink, and good company.
The following morning I stepped onto campus again.
I once again walked the paths.
I once again stepped through the buildings in which a lot of time was spent.
Time of a different context.
I strolled through the autumn air and appreciated the leaves on the trees. It was a sunny day. Campus traffic was nigh inexistent. There was still the occasional breeze of wind rustling through the leaves and chirp of a bird to help keep me company.
I sat on the bench. Alone. It was all right. All was fine. The prior day had affirmed in me that, despite the perceived desolation, good things happen here and good things will continue to happen here.
This is a point that Clayton made during our early conversation. There are people who are experiencing many of the same things that we both had experienced. They are experiencing these happenings for the first time and forming their own traditions and habits from them. The good moments that we once had still carry on, but with other people. Perhaps there is a group of others who enjoy company on the bench.
I would like to think so.
-I hope this is not the last time that we enjoyed this tradition Clayton, Aaron, Shane, Reagan, Ben, and any others who joined us. If it is, I'm glad to have had the experience and hope the same for you as well!