I never really did get into the rhythm of life in a college town, not the whole time I was here. In a college town, people come and go so brutally that you resist and resist, then make a friend that matters just as they go off to Arizona or LA or another country altogether, back to their parents or to a new job or off with a partner. In a college town people don’t settle down in the same way - they aren’t making friends for the raising of their families, or the steady blossoming of their careers. It isn’t like a city, where you see people through stages and out the other side. But all that alienation I felt when I first came to Ithaca, when I thought, uncharitably, these people are not gonna see each other through: that alienation was wrong-headed, I think.
Sitting in the Cornell graduation reading today, watching a member of my semi-muggle writing group read her poems, I was suddenly moved to secret tears. I was moved not just because she’s such a talented poet or because I like her so much, but because she addressed poems to specific people: one to each sister, one to her parents, and one to her cohort. I got it in a flash, the point of all this: life in a college town is special because it’s a stage. Because there is something fruitful about the fall, something dug-in about the winter, something hopeful about the spring. Because in early summer, when the wildflowers start to riot, you can dedicate the work you did to whoever you like, and the summer hovers warm and empty in front of everyone, and things will change. I wish I had known that when I arrived and not just as I’m leaving, though perhaps that’s also the thing about a college town.