How weird, how sad is it, to miss so much people that I barely knew? Part of it’s this 40x365 project, which is forcing ,me to cast an eye backwards to the people I’ve known; part of it is just that I’m getting older; and part of it is that everybody else is, too.
I’ve spent much of my adult life tangentially involved with education. In the fall of 1990, I was a library assistant at a middle school outside Ithaca, New York, working with eleven-year olds who were bright and funny and creative. There was a girl named Rachael, a singer, who had dizzy blue eyes and loved to draw. There was a mischievous athlete who rejoiced in the magnificent name Alexander Zimbabwe Poole—Zim, everyone called him. Great kid. They’d be nearly thirty now, the two of them.
Most of the students I knew at The College are well past that. They’ve got careers and families of their own; they’ve got book deals and baby pictures and résumés and gig posters to crow about. The3y’re tech-savvy—the first generation to really grow up online. They’ve got digital footprints; they’re on Blogger, on LiveJournal, on MySpace and Facebook. They’re not hard to find. And I’ve looked some of them up, to see how they’re doing, and I’m thrilled to see how well most of them are getting along.
But I can’t bring myself to say hello. To tell them I haven’t forgotten them. To thank them. To say I miss them.
I don’t want to be a youth worshipper; I don’t want to be the creepy guy who graduated years ago but still goes to all the college parties. And I’m not looking for anybody to say to me, That twelve weeks you spent shelving books and handing out floppy disks of Oregon Trail during study hall—you changed my life, maaaaaaaan.
Hell, no. I’m not looking to recapture anything. They’re grown-ups, with grown-up concerns and grown-up achievements, and some of them are the sort of grown-up I’d quite like to talk to. But there’s still this little voice that says, You really ought to make some friends your own age, dear. Now, age is a complex algorithm: there’s a lot less difference between thirty and forty than between eleven and 21, or between 21 and 31.
The real issue, I suspect, is the question of past context. A relationship that grows within a certain framework—like that of student/educator—is necessarily stunted, like a bonsai, to fit that framework. All the parts that don’t fit, that are unnecessary or improper in that context, get shaved away. But the interest in a person, the affection, may persist even after the framework passes. So then what? You can take the bonsai out of its little pot and plant it in new soil; but will it ever grow to a full, healthy size? Can it?