Were you excited when you came here for the first time? I asked Q as we drove into Amherst yesterday.
Oh, sure, he said. Then neither of us said anything for a moment. We passed the Phi Psi house, which isn't the Phi Psi house any more and hasn't been since 1986. I lived trhere fifty-five years ago, he said as we passed it. Disbelief was in his voice. It seems like yesterday.
I'll bet you were really cute, I said helpfully. It seems like yesterday to me, too, and i wasn't even born yet. Q still wears a bathrobe he wore her in those days -- we have a picture of him wearing it on the Phi Psi fire escape. That's just not right. Men shouldn't have sleepwear older than their wives.
Our first event was a geology professor's lecture on what happened under the earth to cause the Indian Ocean tsunami. Not what happened to humans, or even to the land, but to the crust and molten rock miles beneath our feet, and then to the water. It was a class; alumni go to class for several days at the Amherst reunion, sit at deaks, listen and ask questions. They learned how to do that here. The hands go up to ask a question, the grey heads nod as they comprehend the professor's answer, or tilt slightly to one side if they're still struggling with it. Fifty five years later, they are still learning.
This morning, we revisited Amhersts's Japanese garden. A river of raked gravel, flowing around great dark stones. Plants that joined the stones that joined the bamboo fence and the air and the sky and the people, so that we were not separated from any of it. We were not appreciative observers: we were simply in the garden with everything else. The professor with us was a medievalist who specialized in church architecture. He went to Japan armed with a complete understanding of the cathedral at Chartres and no knowledge at all of what awaited him in the East. It was the second half of a sentence, he told us, I had known the first half all my life, and now I heard the second half.
Old and young. East and West. Subject and object. I wish we could take a picture of the garden, Q said. I don't know why I didn't bring my camera.
Well, I think my phone is a camera, I said. It seems to be everything else, and we asked an undergraduate how to use it. Of course he knew; they all know. Old and young. He was from Ghana, we learned. First World, Third World. But there really is no first world, no third world. There is one world.
Fifty-five yearsd ago really is yesterday. There really is no such thing as time -- or, if there is, it's not very important. Half a century ago and half a world away are really both right here., I am the second part of a sentence Q began a long itme ago, and you are the second part of the sentence I am writing now. Husband and wife, writer and reader, neigbor acrss the sea, brother or sister of someone who always thought he was an only child. No. None of us are alone.