“You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean
The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can’t understand…”
Steely Dan–Reeling in the Years
There’s nothing like a high school or college reunion to set off a round of self-examination. But as the years have gone by, these occasions have become less of a Come to Jesus moment for me and more of a God Loves You Anyway assessment of conscience and consciousness.
I drove up to Decorah, Iowa to visit Luther College for the third time this year. The first occasion was a reunion of track and field athletes from the years 1966-1986. It was fun to meet legacy athletes and hear stories about how their achievements took place.
Then in September I hauled my artwork up to Luther and installed a show called Road Trip: Passage Through Collective Memory. But then I turned right around again and came back home the next day. I took the backroads to get more material for future paintings.
This past weekend marked our official 40th-year class reunion. I so well recall watching our aged alumni trod quietly through campus when I was 18 years old and just a freshman at Luther. We were so caught up in cross country that fall it was hard to imagine events in the weeks to come, much less forty years down the road.
Eventually I’d study the concept of the ‘irreversibility of time’ in the Philosophy of Existentialism class I took from Professor Richard Ylvisaker. That harsh notion informed both the state of a distance runner on the roads and all of life to come. You can’t turn back.
But you can reminisce, and that’s what reunions are all about. That, and discovering new friends among classmates with whom you shared a time period.
My art show was all about the fact that we have many experiences in life that reside in our minds as a collective. We may not dwell on them specifically, yet those places we pass when we’re going somewhere important in our lives build up and actually become part of our mental processes. The same thing happens with groups of people whom you “pass” along the way in life.
Those four years of college are considered formative years. We give them high significance and we give money to the colleges we attended because we feel loyalty to those places for giving us those opportunities. The faces we see at reunions are like icons for the era. So are the conversations about events past and present.
And for those of us that ran so many miles together, there is a unique level of shared experience wrought from both the pain and pleasure of trying to achieve things that are not easy. For those experiences we share hugs, say thanks and laugh at all the stupid thoughts and funny conversations that occupied our minds all those years ago.
Yes, sometimes the things that pass for knowledge we never truly understand. And I’m more than okay with that. That’s the most common experience we all share.