On the nature of reunions and returning.
By Robert Braile '77 • Illustration by James Dippery
The first letter arrived a year ago. It was from a fellow Bucknellian, reminding me of my 35th Class Reunion this spring. More followed, each with escalating enthusiasm over the gathering of my class and others to reminisce and renew. There would be many events to attend, many panels and lectures, parties and receptions, meetings and ceremonies.
Curiously, though, more than a few correspondents mentioned not just the experience of attending previous Reunions, but also the experience of leaving them — those Sunday afternoon drives home after a dizzying weekend on campus, exhilarated by having rediscovered and rejuvenated past relationships in their lives.
My departures from Bucknell always began on Route 45, not only from Reunions but also on visits home to Long Island when I was a student. My first trip occurred over Thanksgiving in 1973. There were many more, often with new friends thrown together by the ride board. We’d start on Fifth Street, take a right on Market Street, cross the Susquehanna River and pass through Montandon on the way to Route 642 and Route 54, shadowing Interstate 80, until we picked it up after a few miles in Danville to take us much of the rest of the way home.
At the time, Route 45 was more of a path than a road, so expansively surrounded by forests and farms that the natural overwhelmed the human, the landscape defined more by the pastoral constancy of meadows and fields than by the industrialized transience of people in cars. To cross this landscape was disorienting, as standing still in the calm of its quiet, steady embrace seemed to make more sense than passing through it.
As such, my departures from campus always felt tenuous, as if the act of leaving was hesitant rather than certain, possible rather than sure, senseless rather than sensible. They also felt vaguely perilous and futile, as if leaving was as unwise and impossible as it was undesirable. As those few miles on Route 45 went by, sometimes without our seeing another car, my thoughts would still be at Bucknell, dwelling on the people and place of my life there despite my anticipation of home and the undeniable fact of my leaving.
There was so much to remember, so much to pull me back and keep me there, the essays I’d written, the races I’d run, the friends I’d made, the experiences we shared in a place, a world, a home of another kind that seemed ours alone, different and apart from those we’d come from, those that receded from our lives with each journey back. And yet there were the journeys back, each harder than the last, culminating in the most difficult of all, that Sunday afternoon drive home after graduation.
Route 45 taught me about the presence of absence in life, about the many ways a past experience lives on. And so as my 35th Reunion nears, and those with whom I shared Bucknell reach out to encourage our return to campus for the first weekend in June, I’m not surprised by the wonder they’ve felt in attending Reunions. But I’m also not surprised by the wonder they’ve felt in those Sunday afternoon drives home. After all, Reunions are not just about returning to Bucknell. They’re reminders we’ve never left.
Robert Braile ’77, a former environmental correspondent and book critic for The Boston Globe, studied literature and history at Bucknell. He also ran cross country and track. He lives and writes in Exeter, N.H., and is reachable at email@example.com.