Fifty years

Our meeting with Yale colleagues to prepare a series of leadership workshops with French ICRC country teams next year ended earlier than we predicted. We had time to amble over to the 6 or 7 food carts that line up outside Yale’s skating rink and compete for lunch customers: Thai, Ethiopian, Bengali, Indian, Mexican and more. I bought two Bengali Burritos (naan rolled up around Bengali fillings). When I thanked the men with one of the few Bengali words I know (donabad=thank you) they looked puzzled. I suppose Bengali burritos could also be made by creative Central American cooks, which would have required a gracias.

The train back to Boston was so full that I didn’t find a window seat – this is where the plugs are. My devices ran on empty so I closed my eyes and surrendered to the swerving of the train. I had brought my embroidery but fine work like that is not possible with that kind of movement Trains are better for knitting. I am waiting for an assignment from Tessa.

Axel picked me up and we headed straight north to his 50th class reunion at Hebron Academy in Maine, near to nowhere. Not much had changed – it is still nowhere – but there are now girls and kids from 18 countries, many from Asia.

It was fun to finally meet this bunch of people Axel had talked so much about, some of the wives and listen to the eventful and uneventful life stories, all the stuff that happens in 50 years.

We arrived when the Friday night dinner was already in full swing. It was a joyful reunion. We discovered that the parents of Axel’s roommate Hank – having lived underground for the last two years of the war, had emigrated from Holland a few years later. I was astonished that he could still converse in Dutch. We talked about our favorite Dutch food. Axel never knew this about his past.

On Saturday there was breakfast, with students and parents and alumns in the enormous dinning hall. Teenage boys were stocking up on protein for their games: 6 or 7 hard-boiled eggs in addition to scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and milk, was a common sight.

We headed off to the chapel for convocation – where we ran over time due to long and lengthy speeches by coaches and others to honor exceptional alumns.

With breakfast barely digested the 50 year alumns and their wives were invited to the Headmaster’s house for another fabulous meal and more reconnecting.  The afternoon was not programmed with time to keep on talking, watching a variety of games (field hockey, football and soccer) or taking naps which we did.

Then there was one last meal, now without students and parents who had left campus for a few days of freedom. But no meal here goes without speeches. We had all reached our fill with the speeches, a result of too many purposes wrought together: awards, inductions and honoring of long term faculty. We didn’t know any of these people. Yet somehow the assumption must have been that stories about people one doesn’t know are interesting to everyone. That may be true up to a point.

The combination of too many of such stories and speechifyers who didn’t notice that whole tables were leaving, activated memories of having to listen to long winded speeches 50 years ago.  Back then a reaction was risky but now it produced a schoolboy kind of silliness in these men in their late sixties that was endearing. Being the oldest now, they could get away with it. We gathered outside on the porch of the dining hall outside, while the speakers droned on. The men formed a tight circle as if a team of players, hugged each other, promised to stay in touch and then said their farewells. It was a bittersweet thing to watch – they may never come together like this again.

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October 2014
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