Friday, October 8, 2010

sand and trees

The brothers of old KB will be reuniting this weekend at our alma mater. Kappa Beta, blue and gold, was one of several local social fraternities at what is now called the University at Albany. Annually a group of about seven of us meet up to see a basketball game. This year, for the first time since 2002, an entire collection of erstwhile sophomoric cavorters are gathering. At last count 63 brothers will be in attendance, some foolish enough to bring their spouses to the event. (I don't understand this, having attended high school, camp, and college reunions in the past I am not sure there is a population that seems and feels more like a "what am I doing here" appendage than a spouse at a reunion).

I looked at the list of attendees and there are people coming that did not show for the 2002 shindig whom I have not seen in nearly forty years. Because of social networking sites like Facebook I have been in communication with some of these people and look forward to seeing them and sharing in-person tales of how we've fared.

The physical changes are always a little surprising. I think of Kurt and Eggs, for example, two cronies who I have not seen in decades, and all I think of is there 1971image. I don't know about those two, but I know that for others there will be more pounds, more gray, and less hair. But soon after the initial encounter, the old personalities merge with the new look.

Nearly everyone of us has a story. And I have found in former reunions that there is less posturing and more transparency during these affairs. It is as if the baloney that we might dispense in our daily lives is left at home and we can talk freely to people we knew before we began accruing our adult history, successes, and disappointments.

I, like many of those I will see this weekend, have developed a frightening loss of short term memory. I can and have poured myself a cup of coffee, gone to sit down with it, and seen a steaming cup already sitting where I typically park myself to sip. I have intended to check the cat litter and can't recall if I have already acted on these intentions seconds before. I look for my gym bag in the house, then give up and go to drive to work only to see the bag in my rear view mirror having, apparently, packed it in the backseat earlier.

But what has stayed with me is a very strong long term memory. I recall conversations I had with people from the 60s that are vivid and, I'll bet, are dead on accurate. I've startled relative strangers with recollections of things they have told me.

I also remember excerpts from stories I've read, even if I've read them decades earlier. And, subconsciously, these excerpts--sometimes lyrics of a song--rocket to my head and I start thinking of (or singing) them because of something that is occurring that makes the words apt. Even if I am not consciously thinking of the particular event at the moment, up pops--like an internet pop-up-- the novel or short story excerpt.

This week a line from the short story, The Open Boat, has kept surfacing. The story that most of us 60 somethings had to read in high school is about men in an open boat who need to be rescued. Often in the story one character or another says:

"If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?"

I read that story in Mrs. Brodkin's class in 1965 or 66 and it is still in my head.

All of we KB folks, all of all folks, have contemplated sand and trees when we have been adrift wondering if we will get out of a particular maelstrom. The 63 of us who reunite this week, no matter how successful we have been, know how painful it can be to contemplate sand and trees, to have experienced sand and trees, and be unable to access our dreams and the comforts of the harbor.

A wonderful thing about reunions is that they can remind us that we all have been there. I wonder how many times we will raise our mugs this weekend and sing the song that we, often beerily, crooned when we knew from nothing.

"Raise high your steins men, and drink a toast then, to the colors of blue and gold, and let your hearts sing, while foaming steins bring, golden memories of old, so be glad then, that you have drunk when hearts were gay and handclasps free, be glad that you have drunk as one of the men of old KB."

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