TIME AND SPACE weave together, the breath carrying us gently from one moment to the next, hours folding into weeks into years. Where were you 20 years ago? Where will you be 20 years from now?
Returning to campus after 20 years brought tears of joy, amazement and gratitude at four specific moments:
1) My first glimpse of campus — the field outside of Scales Fine Arts Center
2) Seeing Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43) sitting in his office just as I remember him, as if no time had passed
3) Walking into Wait Chapel, which was completely empty yet absolutely filled with all the voices that have sung and prayed there through the years
4) Returning to the grace, beauty and serenity of Reynolda Gardens, which was a favorite retreat during my undergraduate years.
Just as there is a rhythm to the seasons that bring forth the magnificent blooms on the magnolia trees on campus, there is a pattern to the echoes that reside in us, undiminished by the passing of time.
As I walked across campus, I realized the deep roots of Pro Humanitate within me: spring break trips with Wake’s Volunteer Service Corps to Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota led me to volunteer with AmeriCorps on the same Lakota reservation right after graduation, and from there, to serve with VISTA at Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico the following year.
As I continued to walk, I found myself on the second floor of Tribble, in front of Room 216, reminiscing about Dr. Wilson’s “Romantic Poets” course that I visited during my senior year of high school. Experiencing the enchanting brilliance of his teaching was the pivotal moment helping me decide which college to attend. Down the hall was the office where visiting poets led me through critiques of my poems long ago.
Here I was today at Words Awake 2!, a visiting poet myself, something I could have never imagined at the time of graduation. Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78, P ’06), whom I had met as a high school senior when I was interviewing for a Reynolds Scholarship, had invited me to participate in the 2016 writers’ conference. In the slowly fading light of an April evening, we spoke easily, as if two decades had not passed. Everything on campus was exactly as I remembered it. Almost.
The post office where such treasured letters and cherished care packages arrived in the pre-email era is now a pizza parlor.
The library’s all-night study room has become a coffee shop where I spoke with Malika Roman Isler (’99), the director of wellbeing who oversees Thrive, Wake Forest’s innovative holistic health program featuring offerings like yoga that were not even in my consciousness back in the early 1990s but have become central to my life. Her familiarity with Ayurveda, an ancient medical science from India I have been studying, helped to integrate my current life with my 20-years-ago self, just as my emerging from Reynolda House Museum of American Art and seeing a yoga class in session on the nearby lawn did.
In the symphony of light and wind and leaves of Reynolda Gardens, I passed by benches where I sat, writing, thinking and talking, two decades ago. In the midst of all the changes on campus, the white wooden benches, the weeping willows, the mazes of roses and vegetables remain unchanged, and the lion-faced fountains in Reynolda Gardens continue to spill forth.
Woven into the air are the echoes of conversations long gone and reverberating still, and in the faces and voices of strangers is the presence of roommates, classmates and professors who timelessly inhabit the elements of Wake Forest: the space between molecules of past and present; the life-giving air of community; the fire of intelligence and transformation; the waters of creativity and innovation; and the earth that remembers every footstep, every pause, every word, every breath.
Julie Dunlop (’95) is the author of “Breath, Bone, Earth, Sky” (Finishing Line Press) and a recent graduate of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the city where she lives.