I didn't know he was coming, though he had emailed me a few days earlier and said he had some vacation time to use and might visit soon. I'd just gotten back from my off-campus job when I came in the dining Hall and spotted him across the room, eating with Willa. I rushed over and sat down and we had a mini-reunion.
"Too bad we can't go for a run," I said, as they finished and picked up their trays--running was the traditional thing we used to do together, but the weather was hot today and running in the afternoon would have been dangerous.
"Let's go for a walk, then?" he suggested. I agreed at once, and we left the Dining Hall together. Willa had to go to class and didn’t go with us.
As we ambled over to one of the trailheads that lead into the woods behind campus he told me what he’s been up to in more detail (mostly working as an assistant manager in a coffee shop while applying to grad schools) and asked me a few questions about what’s happened on campus since he’s been gone.
“It’s strange,” he said, “it feels like I’ve just been gone temporarily, like I really still belong here. But the reality is the student body is going on without me. The yearlings don’t know who I am. Next year, half the novices won’t.” A novice, remember, is what we call undergrad students.
“It is temporary,” I told him. “You’ll do your Absence, come back and be a candidate.”
“Ah, but how many candidates do you know who are really part of undergraduate life?”
“None of them.”
“I’m still a part of the larger school community, but I’m not a novice anymore.”
His saying that made me sad, so I said nothing. We were just getting in under the trees then, so, maybe to change the subject he asked me about trail work, what’s going on in the woods and how I’m doing with the project. I told him, but I’m not sure how interested he really was in what I’ve been pruning and which drainage structures I’ve cleaned out lately. That’s the problem with someone who’s as polite as Ollie--you can’t tell when they’re just being polite. They act interested in everything.
So I started telling him instead about the thing with all these women thinking I look good all of a sudden. It made him smirk—he’s still uncomfortable talking about anything sex-related. I said I thought it had to do with the “practical yoga” classes, how I’ve gotten better at moving. Ollie told me that my studies were bearing fruit, that I’m changing.
“How did you change while you were here?” I asked.
“You can’t tell?”
“I saw you almost every day for two years, it was too gradual, I can’t tell!”
“No, sorry, of course you can’t, I was just joking. I couldn’t tell, either, but then I went home and everything was different, except of course, really I was the one who was different, and that’s how I found out.”
“So, what did you find out?”
“I’m more solid, less reactionary. I worry less about what other people think of me, whether I follow the rules or not. I’m more compassionate, too, I think. I help other people because I want to, not because Jesus wants me to—although I still believe that He does. And I know you still think I’m a stick-in-the-mud, but I’m more playful than I used to be.”
Who says stick-in-the-mud? Anyway, yeah, he kind of is one, but I’m a dweeb, so that’s probably why we get along.
“You’re a good friend,” I told him.
“Exactly,” he answered. “And the point is I wasn’t always.”
“Ollie, I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m here,” I confessed. “I mean, I know I’m changing, but I don’t know what I’m changing into or where I want to end up. I don’t know what is happening to me.”
“Welcome to the human race—the same is true of everybody, everywhere. Do you like what you are so far?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Do you like the masters? And the other graduates of this place whom you know?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Then don’t worry about it. Trust the process. Anyway, you can never really know what the results of a process will be, all you can go on is whether you like the process you are currently engaged in. If, moment by moment, you engage in processes that claim your whole heart, than you will probably turn out alright.”
I was impressed—what he said made a lightbulb go on in my head or something. I think I forgot to say so, though.
“Wow, you’re right, you wouldn’t have talked like that a couple of years ago, about things claiming your heart.”
“I’ve learned to trust my heart more than I used to.”
So, we wandered all through the woods for hours, talking of this and that. I’d planned on attending a talk Ham was leading on Bach flower remedies, but of course that’s optional, so I really had no place else I had to be. I was surprised that Ollie spent the whole afternoon with just me, when he has other friends on campus to see and not a lot of time in which to see them, but of course almost everybody else must have been in classes or doing campus jobs or something like that. I think I’m the only one just not taking classes this semester.
Finally we turned back—it was almost dinner time and he wanted to go find some people and make dinner plans. So we parted company and I wandered off to see if there was anything to do in the greenhouse for Charlie.
Which is when I realized—I’d completely forgotten to eat lunch.