College is a major life-changing, life-forming experience, especially if you go away to another area of the country and you live on campus. Your entire environment changes and you are living in a community where you have no history. No one knows anything about you. The Latin phrase, tabula rasa applies here. Your life becomes a clean slate upon which you can now write anything since you are among people with whom you have no history. And whatever is written on it going forward is new news. In such a situation you can become whatever you want, but, more often than not, because you are not consciously trying to be what you are not, you end up discovering who you are. This is why college is such a valuable experience of self-realization. It is truly starting your life over. It can be formative and exciting, but it can also be lonely and frightening.
I remember feeling quite alone and homesick when I first arrived 1,500 miles away from my home in southern California to Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Illinois. That’s why I quickly went to my guitar as a source of comfort and identity. “Oh, he’s the guy who can play the guitar really well and sing.” I quickly found that became someone I could be, but also someone I could hide behind. That’s when you start the process of revealing who you are, and also discovering who you are as you do.
When you get older and look back on your life, if you were fortunate enough to have a college experience like this one, you realize there was nothing quite like it — nothing in your lifetime to equal it. So is there value in going back? Are 50-year reunions valuable for anything other than seeing people you haven’t seen in 50 years and probably will not see again on this earth? It depends.
To me, the value is in the memorial stones. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all built altars — they stacked up stones — to mark the spots where God met them in significant ways so that if they ever wondered “Did that really happen?” they could return and find the visible evidence of the fact that it did. These altars were also ways in which they could teach their children: Here is where God met me. So yes, there is value in this.
I don’t have any stacks of stones I can go back to, but I can find my chapel seat where every day my view of God and the world was enlarged and grounded, classrooms where my preconceived notions were challenged, streets where I walked and prayed, dorm rooms I argued in and sharpened my resolve as iron sharpens iron, and dining rooms where I stayed late and talked long after the meal was over and the kitchen staff was gone.
So it probably depends on what you saw and what you did there. If you floated through four years in a haze, then there probably won’t be much in this experience. If you engaged and listened, and met God anywhere during that time, there should be memorial stones everywhere. I’m expecting to find many, and I’m especially excited about finding the ones I can’t think of sitting here at my desk 1,500 miles and 50 years away.