I spent Tuesday afternoon in a basement waiting out a Tornado warning. This is not how I expected to spend that space of free writing time at Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon College. I suppose it was fitting, however. My time as a Kenyon student also ended in a basement waiting out a Tornado warning. Severe storms blew through Gambier on the eve of my graduation sending students, professors and the parents who were there to meet them into well-protected interior rooms all over campus. Ah, the strange memories one acquires at a small midwestern liberal arts college.
From all I can tell, the college emerged unscathed from this recent meteorological event. Not so eleven years ago, when a falling tree toppled the stone cross standing at the northwest corner of Old Kenyon. To quote myself on the dozens–probably hundreds–of tours I led past that fateful spot over the years, the cross marks the place where the infamous Philander Chase declared “This will do” when seeking a home for his fledgling Episcopal seminary.
Though the cross has been repaired, it bears a scar from that fateful storm. Over the years, on my return to campus, I have made a bizarre tradition of visiting that broken cross, as if its cracks are a secret shared by the class of 2004 and I have come to pay my respects to a college institution damaged on our watch. A silly thought, perhaps, but it does put me in mind of the impermanence of a place even as rooted in tradition as Kenyon. Tornadoes come. Time passes. Monuments get damaged and repaired, but never perfectly. The scars remain to show the passage of time.
Certainly not all the changes and developments at my alma mater are like that broken cross. Everywhere I look I see signs of healthy growth, a sign of vitality. I am writing up this post in an immaculate dorm room which puts my undergraduate residential life options to shame. Bright new seminar rooms reflect an updated style but the same commitment to lively conversation and enthusiastic learning of the more traditional collegiate Gothic academic buildings.
Kenyon is not the same school I attended. The classrooms are different. Some of the people are different. Apparently you actually have to show I.D. to eat in the dining hall now?
But change is ok. I am not the same person I was when I left here more than a decade ago. I am more sure, more confident in myself. My life has gone in directions I could not have expected when I was 22. Canadian? Priest? Parent? I am honestly not sure which surprises me more.
I like to think of my relationship with Kenyon as a reflection of my closest and oldest friendships. We change. We grow. We develop. But we are still a part of each other. When we come together, we simply pick up where we find ourselves here and now. We are nourished by the past, but we are not beholden to it. That is the mark of a true friendship, and Kenyon has always been the best of friends to me.