My 24th reunion turned out to be my first. I had not planned it so. Not senior year. Not after missing the first, the fifth, or even the 10th. As the years went by, though, a weekend at Reunions began to take on all the weight I’ve come to associate with all sorts of “returns.”
Ever since I can remember, the concept of The Return (capital T and R) has been central to my existence. I emigrated from Iran around the time of the 1979 Revolution, and at gatherings with other Iranians those first years, most conversations focused on returning. All along, the expatriates and the new exiles would profess: “Things will change, and we’ll go back.” That was the anthem. This glorious return, though, was endlessly delayed. Two months turned into two years, then 20. New lives. Settling in the suburbs of America. Children. Grandchildren, even.
What was deeply taking root in me, too, I realized, was the feeling that any return became saddled with anxiety and excessive philosophizing. Any return prompted extensive deliberation and soul-searching. Princeton Reunions would not be spared.
It’s not just me, obviously. Ulysses, among other heroes of ancient epics, demonstrated the magnitude of The Return. Just last year, LeBron James — the ballplayer-as-mythological-folk-hero — received celebratory treatment on The Return home to Cleveland and the Cavaliers. In my case, the longer I went without going to Reunions, the more a short trek turned into some portentous event, with complications I’d concocted.
I decided that any worries about The Return, about all returns, were soon going to cease. I would make a grand statement, yes, with Princeton Reunions! I would undermine the power I had bestowed upon The Return by going back to the most insignificant. I would confirm that The Return, all returns, are nothing but illusions. I would make my first, the 24th.
Once on campus, all these concerns dissipate.
Look at this pageantry, dude, I whisper inwardly, my tone and mien changing radically. Check out these jackets, yo! Grab some drinks, hellooo! In McCormick for a panel, a fellow back for his 50th reunion has fallen asleep next to me. At the most unexpected moment, he awakens and says to a panelist, “I probably haven’t seen you in 50 years.” Harry C. Weber ’64, the panelist who’d been addressed, responds, “You probably haven’t!” All laugh a hearty laugh. What fabulous kinship!
On a stroll across campus I see three young children on a tiger sculpture holding pompoms while posing for a picture. I stumble, unexpectedly photobomb them, and say, “Whoops! Sorry!” Their mom responds in an extremely amiable tone: “Oh, no no! It’s OK. Don’t worry!” What bonhomie!
Even on my initial foray from New York City, where I live (yeah, so Princeton is not even a real “trek”), all nervous and agitated, an unexpected encounter lightens my mood. At Penn Station, I spot a guy wearing a Class of ’82 jacket (surely he’s an angel sent down to help me chill out). “You going to Princeton Reunions?” I throw out. “That obvious, huh?” he answers. “Yeah,” I say. He then laughs, “I have a meeting before. I’m gonna have to take this off!”
It dawns on me soon afterward, while sitting in front of Firestone Library, bathed in sunlight: We’re just one great, grand, goofy tribe. O merciful deities, I thunder within, forgive this clueless knave and his affinity for making big deals out of things. He gets it now, he really does. Forgive his emotional profligacy. “Goodbye, Return and all associated anxieties and reflections,” he promises to shout from rooftops, and “hello, good times!”
Amir Parsa ’90’s essay was published in the 2015 PAW Reunions Guide, available on campus this weekend.