Bad For The Body, Good For The Soul

Originally posted here.

Dan Freedman - Nov 4, 2022

Well, we did it again. Three years after the best college reunion one could ever imagine, a fair number of those same guys got together this past weekend to relive our glory days. Glory days, at least in theory.

When we last met, in September of 2019, it had been a quarter of a century (if not more) since many of us had seen each other. We spent that weekend getting caught up; learning anew about brothers we first met a lifetime ago. That weekend was special because we did not know those who we knew. Time doesn’t just heal wounds, it creates new ones, and those allow us to grow as people. So when we met at Dirtbags (still “a part of throwing up”) that Friday night, and then again on the “mall” that Saturday afternoon, we needed to make up for lost time. We did that in spades, and it inspired me to write 2,000 words.

This time was different. It has only been three years. We already knew the rhythms of each other’s lives from the previous event, so now we had room to dig deeper and get a better feel. That said, the world has drastically changed in those three years, and many of us have changed along with it. I would not say this was a more sober event, but I would say it was more subdued. Many of us hit and passed the half-century mark since 2019. Many of us have since sent kids to college. Many of us have taken renewed stock of our lives after facing a worldwide pandemic.

This time, as we descended upon Tucson, we knew those who we knew, but we didn’t know everything. And thus, starting on Friday night, we went about the easy work of getting caught up once again. We shared stories; we rehashed memories; and we worked hard not to act a fool. The conversations flowed, probably because, as one brother put it: “the truth is, people don’t change…and that is in some ways refreshing.”

That sentiment is at least partially true. You could set your watch knowing that one guy who would inspire belly laughs with hysterical tale after hysterical tale; you knew that one guy who would be the voice of incessant optimism; and you knew that one guy who would be leering at the co-eds. Those things didn’t and don’t change. But some have sobered up (literally and figuratively); some have adjusted their lives to account for new circumstances. And some are simply coping with the idea that the people walking that campus who were once us, are VERY much not us any longer. And those changes are refreshing as well.

My son is a sophomore in college now, and he went through the bid process his first year. He didn’t join a fraternity. That made me both happy and sad. Happy, because I don’t see him as a “frat guy” (and yes, I know how much trouble a pledge would be in if he ever referred to it as “frat”; and no, I would never call my country a “cunt”) and I believe he can make considerably better use of his time than cleaning up after over-indulged and overly-entitled active brothers who have no qualms about spilling their dip cups or ordering wings at 2am.

Sad, because of what I got to experience 30+ years ago; and three years ago; and this past weekend. When I last wrote about our reunion, I called our house an island of misfit toys. That description holds true today. And that is beautiful. That said, as we settled into mid-life, we found ourselves living in our respective bubbles, which means we don’t often get to encounter other/differing viewpoints and perspectives. But because of our disparate backgrounds, when we all get together, we get exposed to all sorts of worldviews, all sorts of life experiences. And while getting together like this to eat and drink for 36 hours may be bad for the body, it sure as hell is good for the soul.

College, as I am seeing through two kids’ eyes, and about to see through two more, is — in some ways — the best time of your life. Sure it is hard, and stressful, and there is an aspect of the great unknown. As I previously wrote, some issues seem way more daunting at the time than they do in hindsight. But we proceed, persist, and persevere. And we party. And we make lifelong pals. And then we come back and see what has changed and what remains the same. Rather than lament the passage of time, we appreciate it.

In college — like in all walks of life — you make friends for a season and friends for a reason. But when this group gets together, those lines blur. I recently had a college friend say that I have given him confidence in life because he knew that if I was his friend, he couldn’t be that bad. Were we friends for a season, or are we friends for a reason? I don’t know, and I don’t care. We — like so many of the guys we saw this weekend — are simply friends. All of us are, in some manner, brothers, because we are people who shared a time in our lives that we can never get back (and, truthfully, should never try to). We know things about each other that even our spouses may not. At times these pricks found your deepest insecurity, and exploited it for no reason other than a cheap laugh. If that were to happen today, that would make him an enemy, but back then it taught us resilience; it broke us from our shell and exposed us to the world in ways we didn’t know (didn’t want to know) existed. And guess what, we came out the other side, maybe even a little better for it. As I like to say, it is also important to learn what not to do.

My stepson is currently hip-deep into his pledgeship. He is miserable and ecstatic — oftentimes simultaneously. He is outside his comfort zone and pushing his limits; and he is growing each and every day. He is making friends and forming bonds. There is no way to know if his experience will be like mine, like ours, or if he will come back in 30 years and feel the same level of kinship, but I sure as hell hope he does.

Late Saturday night many of us hugged goodbye. There would be no greasy spoon breakfast Sunday morning at Mike’s on University, mostly because it long-ago closed — replaced by a Chipotle (natch!) — but also because most of us have kids and lives we needed to get back to. There is history in those hugs. There were promises to keep in touch; and vague plans to do it again. Maybe we will; maybe we won’t. In reality, it doesn’t matter. We brothers retain a love in our hearts that will never wane. It’s a love that we cannot explain, an ineffable feeling that is borne of a common time and common experiences (some might call it “hazing,” but I digress). We take that sensation on the plane and back to our lives, however quotidian they may be, knowing that for one four-year (or longer) period, we had each other, and that was more than enough.

That, and the fact that we all know Kimball…and Kwan. Goddamn, sonofabitch, indeed!