One of the greater rumors in circulation is that I had a childhood; this is simply untrue. I have had several childrenhood (if I might call them that), and am currently enjoying my third. After all, childrenhood are nothing but the beginning of a new era, where you find the world is once again boundless for having been unexplored. They happen as often as we would like, more or less; but what is a rare treat is getting to actually revisit a younger set of days.
March 1 found me heading back, for old time’s sake, to my second childhood and first alma mater in Virginia at the University of Richmond. A late-night Delta flight bound for Dixie, like some strange magic, set me down in a memory that has never known the year enjoyed here at Kenyon. It was a dangerous move, of course. As someone who might undergo surgery on naught but wistfulness, effectively time travelling is a risky business. But into the valley of past rode the contented.
The Richmond campus has changed somewhat since I last saw it, and the construction projects seemed intrusive upon once-grassy fields of starry contemplation and old adventure. But the dorms smelled the same (a strange mix of carpeting, socks and late August); Dhall, Peirce’s less-than-wholesome counterpart in Richmond, still offered more desserts than actual meal options. The reflection of Boatwright Tower, flush with Virginian brick and sodium light, shivers on the waters of Westhampton Lake at night. A concrete fountain still lacks the pineapple finial that disappeared one mysterious September evening during my sophomore year.
Yet it was also much like visiting Richmond for the first time, back in 2009 when the place was new and unfamiliar. I was surprised to find that, like that first time, Richmond was as easily left as it was visited. I had travelled to the past, a mostly inaccessible place, and found that while I was content there, I had not been discontent back home in the present, as true nostalgia suggests. Returning to my freshman dorm, Dennis Hall, the sight of many dear moments, was a comforting but futile act beyond the light sweetness of sentiment.
Perhaps, I mused on the return flight, if we were able to visit those moments of happy memory, stolen from us by their original owner, we would find they were exactly what they had been — a moment like now. Going back to Richmond made me realize the futility of pining for an old childhood; even if we could have the past again, we would soon decline it. Contentment is simply nostalgia focused rightly.
Attending Kenyon often contrasts my present against high school days spent in the same physical space, and nostalgia occasionally grows strong. I fondly recall afternoons spent eating in the Gund cafeteria waiting for my mom to pick me up from debate research, or listening to WKCO on rainy April evenings at home, when the signal mustered the strength to vault on down the Kokosing to our home. Now that we say less with more data, cellphone towers perch atop the hills which once let in 91.9 unimpeded; but the present also brought Peirce’s broad glass windows that look towards the sunrise in ways fantastic, a new vantage point of the old sublimity. Such is each new childhood in life, I imagine.
Springtime is here; the days are warm in between winter’s postscripts, and the sun, growing more gregarious by the day, invents new fragrances in the trees and lawns between Old Kenyon and the Gates. The evening fields are quiet, though a warm breeze in the midst of cold zephyrs suggests they are up to something. It is an easy time to be young and content; but I may repeat myself.
Matthew Eley ’15, of Howard, Ohio, is an English major with an IPHS concentration. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.