Last fall I attended a Princeton classmate’s second wedding, not a renewal of vows but a renewal of love after the pain of death and divorce, sadness and confusion. In my 20s and early 30s weddings were a constant, and I traveled near and far to attend the celebrations of so many of my Princeton roommates and friends embarking on the next chapters of their lives. And while I loved the weddings of my youth, this wedding between two people who had witnessed so much struck a deeper chord. During their vows they lifted up the scars they carried and in doing so asked those of us present to do the same, to honor the roads of grief and loneliness we had all walked in our lives, along with our celebrations.
The wedding was filled with close friends I have known for almost 40 years, a number I had to double check on the calculator, it felt so large. But the numbers don’t lie, nor do the stories we have all lived, both separately and together, the circle widening each decade. Classmates I barely knew during my four years at school also became like family later in life, their children too.
When the weekend ended and we all hugged and said goodbye, we also smiled and said, “See you at Reunions.” We hoped then that it would be possible to return to campus this year for our 35th, to banish the isolation of the pandemic and its Zoom cocktails and Zoom yoga gatherings that, while serving as a lifeline for the past two years, cannot compare to pretending we are 18 again and just finding our footing as freshmen with no idea who we will become. Thankfully, we will be back together soon.
I remember my early reunions, wandering campus and noticing the much older classes in their respective quads and cheering for them along the P-rade route. Back then I could only imagine success out there among the gray hair and stooped shoulders, a Princeton lineage that led always to the top. That was my hope, anyway. But now, as I consider my approaching 35th reunion along with my gray hair (although I do not think my posture is stooped and I will challenge anyone, even the new graduates, to a hand-walking contest), I see also the hard twists and turns of life that await us all — sometimes right at the beginning, sometimes later on. And while I of course prefer good news to bad, I have also found that the scars we carry most often tell the true story of who we are and have become — the jobs we lost, the funerals we have attended, the wrong turns, and the bedsides we have sat beside.
But as much as what we have witnessed carries so much weight, I think who we have witnessed it with carries even more. One of my college roommates likes to use the phrase, “Who will walk you home” to describe who, no matter what, will be there for you at the end — at the end of a hard day, the end of a hard road, the end of a life. When I close my eyes and retrace the steps of my life, both the joys and the sorrows, I see the faces of my Princeton classmates walking me home. So many had more faith in me than I had in myself, had somehow glimpsed the man I wanted to become long before I had any clue.
And so come May I am thankful we will all be able to gather again in person, to dress ridiculously in orange and black as we hold high our scars, which now include a worldwide pandemic. And I look forward to dancing deep into the night, my gray hair be damned.
Bill Eville ’87 is the managing editor of the Vineyard Gazette on Martha’s Vineyard. His book, Washing Ashore, will be published in the fall.