Friday, March 11, 2011

Grow.

Welcome to the very first post of A Ripening Life, a place to celebrate the snippets of everyday life that move us, teach us, and make us lol. A scrapbook of sorts, where I will paste in not only my thoughts, photos and mementos, but also those of writers, mentors, and people everywhere who inspire us. I would love nothing more than to see this blog take on a (ripening) life of its own.

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Last summer I had an experience that was so meaningful, and I thought it might be a good one to share in my opening post. It happened when I returned to my college alma mater for a class reunion and had arrived a day early. It was a gorgeous California day and feeling sentimental and nostalgic, I roamed the campus.

I found myself at my old brick dorm of sophomore year. It was an ancient building when I lived there 37 years ago ... built in the 1920's I think, and even more ancient now. Whenever I've returned to campus over the years, I'm always surprised to see that this dorm hasn't been demolished and replaced with a new facility. But it was legendary in 1973 and old or not, its charm and location in the heart of campus perhaps still makes it a popular place to live. In all my visits to campus, this dorm has always been locked up and as much as I wanted to wander the halls and soak up my youth, I'd never been able to.

But on this day I was astonished to find the main door unlocked and I climbed the familiar stairs to the second floor. There was my friend Sue's old corner room, the door wide open. God, all the times we sat on her top bunk drinking cheap Lucky Lager beer, singing Stairway to Heaven. The next room was open too, and the next ... every room down the hallway was wide open and empty, void of beds or desks. I came to the 4th one, room 206 .... my old room, and turned into the doorway.

The room looked exactly the same as it had in 1973! Nothing remodeled, nothing changed. It felt the same too, like it had when I walked into its waiting emptiness 37 years ago, arms full with boxes of books and bedding, a desk lamp and a coleus plant. The same old sash windows revealed the same tree outside, but now it's once young limbs were thick with age, hiding the view beyond.

The worn wooden floor creaked as I stepped just inside the door. Now even more worn and scarred with age, it had clearly never been replaced! The same tiny wooden wardrobe closets flanked the door. Originally designed for a few simple dresses and a couple pairs of shoes, they were no longer practical for today's co-ed. I pulled out the clunky old drawer beneath the wardrobe on the left, my side of the room, and I could almost see my college sweaters folded inside.

I turned on the old light switch ... it made the same thick thunky sound! There was the empty corner where my bed once stood. And here was the same old porcelain wall-mounted sink, the same mirrored medicine cabinet above it, the same ancient towel bars! I was stunned that it was all unchanged, that the university had never remodeled or replaced one thing in all these years! The mature tree outside the window was my only clue that it was not still 1973.

I went to the window and tried to peer through the dense leaves of the tree, looking for the view that I knew so well. From that second story window decades ago, I could see beyond the young limbs and watch the comings and goings at The End Zone, the campus coffee shop. See students studying (or not) under the trees. Or cheer on fraternity bros playing mud football on the lawn after a heavy rain. Now I couldn't see a thing.

I walked the few steps back to the sink and turned the faucet on, then off. I opened the medicine cabinet and peaked inside at its empty wooden shelves, remembering my toothbrush there, a bottle of aspirin, a tin of band aids. My mascara and a hairbrush. I wondered about all the girls who had used these shelves since. We belonged to the same sorority ... the sisters of room 206, when our lives were ripe with possibilities.

When I clicked the medicine cabinet door shut, my young sophomore self looked back at me from the dingy mirror. There I was, straight blond hair, reckless and cavalier, filled with hope and lofty ideas. Afraid and confused. A college girl who wanted to stay in this moment and never grow up.

Then I felt the years between then and now roll toward me, unfolding like a big blooming Georgia O'Keeffe flower, sped up. I thought about the difficulties I would face once I left the shelter college provided, how I would flounder and lose my way. I thought about the long awakening years that followed and as I watched my 20-year old self fade from the mirror, I liked what I saw in the 57-year old still-ripening me standing there. I grinned, as I knew something the young me did not know; that it had all turned out so beautifully. That there would someday be a wonderful husband, a daughter beyond words, abundance, health, creative work and tremendous friends, many of whom have stuck with me since I occupied this dorm room, and many new ones.

I soaked it up. And as I looked around room 206 I acknowledged that nothing here had changed or grown but the tree outside this window. And me.

Funny how that happens ... change, growth and trickles of wisdom. It happens so slowly over time that sometimes we forget to recognize it. One day we might find that the door we have been pounding on has been left unlocked, and behind it hangs a dingy mirror that shows us the space between youth and now. It's a beautiful reflection of a journey both arduous and gratifying.

My life was ripe with possibilities in 1973. I was just going to have to work it out.

5 comments:

Fragrant Liar said...

I can't imagine the university not changing a thing in that room! That's incredible!

And the pictures you painted for us were beautiful.

Welcome back to Bloggyville. :-) xo

7f9eefcc-4ce7-11e0-9f91-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Harry. Looking forward to your next posting.
Xoxo

Carolyn said...

Wow, what a beautiful and poignant blog! I loved the walk through your old dorm and your "aha" at the end. Thanks for sharing!

Studio Zanne said...

Love the colorful ripe pears...great opening story!

Bernie said...

A wonderful post--one I can really relate to as well. You led us through this experience like a pro and we were there right beside you! Loved it as you wrote about one of my favorite loves---college life and all it entailed. And what a great comparison between the young college student and the mature (ahem) woman who stood before the mirror. This was great.