I’m certain it was Megan A. who streaked across the sharply frozen grass of the Harvard football field with me that February night. My question is was it also you who kissed both organ scholars with me on the streets of Charleston after Spoleto? Ed J. and Jared Something. Dear Ed, still baby-faced and elegant-handed, but slimmer, soberer and with two glorious baby-faced sons to inherit his thick hair and fine musicianship. How delightful to sing for him again, even if I did sing too loud, too darned loud.
The Harvard University Choir reunion far exceeds all expectation. Kent and I wander over the yard grinning until our cheeks ache. It is like old times, except those years ago we were just friends dissecting each other’s romantic involvements, and now we have three children together.
As we walk through Harvard Square, Frank P. says, “There are so many people here. I don’t remember it being this crowded.” “There might have been,” I say. “We were so narcissistic then, we didn’t see anyone but ourselves. There might have been a crush of people who were invisible to us.” I remember thinking we were the future and consequently the only people who mattered. I look at the current students and realize I wasn’t a fashion disaster; we all were. Apparently tuition is so high no one can afford a hairbrush.
Frank P. and Jason W. have been torturing themselves with reading the infamous Red Book. Produced for each class reunion, the Red Book is a compilation of miniature autobiographies of the class. This work of historical fiction is guaranteed to convince all and each that they are in some way the underachiever of the lot. I’ve never opened or contributed to it, but after this weekend, I think I will.
You see, not in any event or conversation the whole weekend, do I experience the least hint of one-ups-manship. We are so different now than the creatures who assembled the first week of freshman class eager to prove we were still gifted and talented even among the highly gifted and talented. I remember standing in line for the first meal at Annenberg, one of the girls asked another, “Is that Caress bodywash?” “Yes, how did you know?” “I have a highly developed sense of smell.” Well, then.
No, instead we pick up again with friends precisely where we’d left off with the same easy intimacy of shared suffering, as though we’ve just tumbled out of bed and sprinted across the yard toward 8:25 Morning Prayers rehearsal. Katie W. says she remembers feeling she didn’t have the time to check her watch on the way lest she miss precious seconds–got to arrive before the financial penalty for lateness. Somehow we made it each morning. With a choir robe to cover a multitude of sins, we started the day with Psalms and Anthems, and then breakfast at Annenberg where Marg D. piled a bagel high with cream cheese and salted tomato.
It was the custom then, and probably still is, to exchange detailed oral lists of the work we were blowing off. On the one hand, it served to help us keep straight all the many things we had to do in the time before cellphone calendaring and Google lists, and on the other, it was the fashion to posture as though we did no work. Work was for the unwashed masses. Somehow we were all getting by on innate brilliance. Silliness.
Alice F. who must have seen my blog mentions that I’ve been quite vocal about how hard it is to raise twins and commends me for my openness. She’s right of course, and it reminds me of those days of everyone pretending they never studied. I guess maybe it would be more impressive to photoshop our lives on my blog maintaining a swan’s composure while keeping all the disappointments and anger discretely underwater. “Pretending it’s all perfect and easy takes energy,” I reply. “All my energy is spoken for, and there’s a long waiting list if I ever have any to spare.”
Though it’s been over a decade since Wesley and I lived down the hall from each other and were choir secretaries together, I still feel as though I really know him. Gone are the ponytail, the androgynous velvet hat, and the self-circulated rumors questioning his sexuality–despite which he never had any trouble getting plenty of women. He’s still dressing dark, and I suspect he’s still as judgmental in his opinions and kind in his heart as ever. He bought me a space heater for my birthday one year because my room was an icebox. I don’t know if I ever managed to be that thoughtful as an undergrad.
Too many people are missing. Neither Juraj H. and Katie Sz. who both convinced me to go to the reunion are in evidence. And where is Brian F? Marg D. took Brian and me to my first ever Thai restaurant, The “King and I”, on Charles Street. I tried to like pad thai for their sakes. Now I can’t live without it. I miss those many movie nights when Marg and Brian and I consumed a scandalous amount of Ben & Jerry’s and fell asleep on my floor in front of the third video tape.
I’m glad I don’t have to try to look David C. in the eye in the Buttrick room where we made out so often. Instead it reminds me of the night Michael S. and I used my key to get in to make chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen. Memorial Church had just installed a new security system that had to be reset even if you used a key to open the door. I found this out not because I read that email, but because the Harvard Security as well as the Cambridge Police burst in on our baking session with guns ablazing. Apparently, the new security system had been installed because a group of professionals had been systematically hitting churches in the area. My heart was beating out of my chest, but one of the security officers seemed to be in even worse shape. He leaned up against the wall in the cookie-strewn Buttrick room and put his head almost between his knees breathing hard. “Are you okay?” I asked. He shook his head. “Were you going to shoot us?” I blurted out. “I was ready to.”
Despite that lesson, if I could have found the old key, I would have tried to get into the attic from the Pusey Room and across to the Memorial Church bell tower where among other things, Will D. shut me down one night a few weeks before graduation.
I should have dressed up for the dinner more. I’m pleased to hear they saved me a seat at the cool people table even though I didn’t see one and had to sit at the back of the room. It’s so nice to spend a couple of days wearing adult clothes in no danger from toddlers’ fingers with my adult ears in no danger from toddler’s whines.
Sunday morning the music is spectacular and almost relentlessly bombastic. I can’t stop complaining about my time being wasted singing Amy Beach, but I end up enjoying even that.
Megan A. and I wonder why we aren’t singing the descant to Old Hundredth (and why so few people seem to be doing the irreverent actions to the first and fourth verses). Murray Forbes Somerville is retelling the following anecdote while the choir rolls their eyes fondly:
A conductor rehearsed only the first 2 bars of each movement of the Brahms Fourth and then said, “We shouldn’t have any problem with that. See you all at 8pm.” The fourth horn raised his hand and said, ‘But, Maestro, I’ve never played the Brahms’ Fourth before!’ The conductor looked at him, and said, ‘You’ll love it.'”
Me: “Is there a reason we’re not singing the descant to Old Hundredth? There’s not enough high and loud stuff in the program. ”
Ed and Murray: “We were having an argument over this. Was there a descant?
Megan, Marg, and me: “Hu-yeah!”
Ed: “Does anyone remember it?”
Megan: “Anyone who remembers it can sing it.”
Me: “You’ll love it.”
Everyone cheers. I wonder if Murray will make this an addendum to his anecdote the next time he tells it. It would be such an honor to live on in the MFS lore.
Oh, how we wailed away on that descant! Think I might have doubled the third for the gratuitous high note on the Amen. So be it.
The sing-through of greatest hits is a feast for the senses. We glut ourselves on polyphony and fortissimi. For an hour I am completely happy. This is the present and consequently, the only thing that matters. We complain that precious time of our sing-through is spent on hymns, until we sing this text to Finlandia in the new edition of the hymnal. Even those who survived “Lass dich nur nichts” dry-eyed smile at each other through tears:
Jason W. has to duck out early to sing another church service. I still take credit for getting him into church singing which he’s been in ever since. I’ve missed his quick wit and barrage of Simpsons quotes. Why did I ever try to force anything romantic with him when we were clearly meant to be friends just like this? We catch each other’s eye with a laugh as Frank P. launches into another refreshing opinion so wholly devoid of guile or self-consciousness. I would love to be Frank for a day. If they sold tickets for such a thing, I’d be the first to buy one.
Far from competition, the weekend is full of acceptance of each other’s choices and heartfelt good will. We end up sharing personal information even our family’s don’t know. Some of us have kids, others are trying, others, like Alice F. are based in Geneva, but flying all over the world fighting against human rights violations–literally saving children from atrocities. “I always thought by now I’d be married and have a few children and be doing that. But I’m not. Yet, I absolutely love my life.” I can’t help but laugh, “And I never thought I’d be married, never wanted children, and hoped I’d be flying all around the world by now,” I say. Times and seasons. She says, “In five or ten years, I’ll be home with my kids, while you’re flying around once the kids are in school.” We laugh to each other hoping we’re right.
We vow to see each other again at the next reunion or the next time we’re in town. We hope we can do this every year. We crowd into a picture of just the girls, then more, then more, then everyone. We hug each other too tight and too long. As we turn to go, Kent says, “They don’t make friends like they used to.” In truth, they don’t make us like they used to, the college us that had no one to care for and to be cared for by except our friends.
I remember with a twinge of embarassment that my email signature senior year said something like, “to burn with the fire of a thousand suns”. I buy the updated version of my old navy Harvard sweatshirt at the COOP and feel the embers of that brand of hope and self-belief glow brighter.
The instant I get home, three little planets swirl into orbit around me. Fluffy runs to my side saying, “Want to hold hands while we go up the stairs? That shows a little bit of love, right? We like to be best friends.” It’s clear to them I am the ultimate source of life and light.
Steps of Widener
Memorial Church where where we first met. Kent was the tenor in my audition quartet.
Kent’s freshman dorm.
Chilling in the yard.
Please, please send me pictures from the rehearsals and dinner and such! Pretty please!