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April 9, 2005
Charlie must have graduated in 1963 or thereabouts; I graduated in 1980. We sat in the sun on a bench beside a playground they didn't have when either of us was here -- it was the tennis court then.

Gentlemen, the preaching professor would tell them, barely concealing a yawn, We need some excitement! Charlie threw back his head and laughed at the memory. After all these years, he can still get excited about something he is reading, something he is teaching, something he is learning.

It seems to me that you can get more excited about things, in fact, than you could when you were new. Most of whatever it was that you thought you were going to do you have either done or not done, freeing up a lot of energy you used to spend wondering if you were up to the task. Decades have shown you what you do well, and by now you have found ways to put those things in the center of your life and, insofar as it has been possible, find people more gifted in those other things to do them.

By now, you have seen so many people die at so many different ages that you need no further convincing that nobody has forever and so today had better count for something, because it will be gone forever when it's gone. So you don't hold much back from the day; you're in it with both feet. And yet you know your limits better than you did when you were new. You rest when you need to rest, and no longer wonder if anyone thinks you're shirking. This is because you now understand that people aren't thinking about you much; they're busy with their own affairs.

The sun shines through the old trees as we sit on the bench. Students and professors walk in twos and threes down the steps from the refectory and along the path: some seniors tense about job searches that have yet to bear fruit, others jubilant about having found a position. Middlers with backpacks full of books, feeling as if they've always been here and can never leave. Juniors looking forward with trepidation to their hospital work this summer. The old buildings of dark brick loom over them, but the sun is shining almost straight down and they walk in its brightness. Their afternoon is about to begin.


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