Over Labor Day weekend, R. and I helped our friend Natalie move to Chicago, which involved driving a u-haul trailer from Albuquerque to Chicago in 24 hours, staying long enough to have dinner with friends, watch you-tube videos of people getting punched in the nuts, sleep, have breakfast with friends the next morning, restock on ice and food at Target, and hug everyone goodbye. We left Chicago around 2 on Sunday and made such good time I talked R. into stopping in Grinnell where, incidentally, Adam & Cam were for alumni soccer weekend.
Grinnell. The moment we crossed the Mississippi I was too excited not to drive. R. slept as I drove over those familiar hills, under that enormous sky. I surfed channels on the radio, but for some reason I kept finding songs that were popular when I was at Grinnell (Cher's "Believe," Madonna's "Believe") and happily pretended it was junior year again. By the time we were passing exit signs for Victor and What Cheer (not to mention Monty & Brooklyn!) I was hitting R. to show him.
Of course, I can't go back to the Grinnell I knew. The place itself is different -- the Chrystal center, East Campus, the shiny new student center, the shiny new PEC -- ad infinitum, it seems, though I only left a little more than three years ago. And the people, though they look shockingly familiar from a distance, are not the same people. I bet they're great. But they're not *my* people, not *my* Grinnellians. I'd need an Ali and a Hudson, a Jamie, Cam, Adam, a George & Dan, a Nadia and Mary, of course, a Margaret, Em, Vivek, Chris & Nick, a Paul and a Matty and a Posey, Kim, Melissa, Gus, John, Gina & Pat & Dave and.... well, you know what I mean. That collection of people, the specific population of people I love, will never be together again in exactly the same place or exactly the same way.
Knowing that the campus itself is different, and knowing that the people, for the most part, are gone (though there's a very real chance of running into a Professor Youde or an Abby Scheckter these days), Grinnell still holds a powerful draw for me, the very trees themselves which I knew so well, the very curve of each path meandering through the wildflowers across campus. The air there seems different, even, in ways I may never be able to explain.
And I realize now, 1300 miles away once more, teaching again on the wide desert plain, that the person I was hoping most to see was myself, the girl I was six years ago, walking across the campus with notebook in hand and mischief in mind.....
The chances that I'll see her again are slim, I think, and yet the fact that I was able, even for an hour, to sit at Dairy Barn with Cam & Adam and a strawberry-banana smoothie tells me that there's a chance I can find her again as well. A chance that I'll be able, even for an hour, to step outside the suburban adult life of mine to walk alongside her as she wanders under the apple trees, wholly present and wholly herself.
And I wonder if that's not the biggest reason anyone has to go back, not in search of the place or even the people, but of yourself, the person you were. The person you know you still can be -- still are -- given an hour and enough wildflowers.