Thursday, December 29, 2016

Alma mater friendship in a box

True friendship lasts forever. We, six college students, were convinced of that when we graduated one by one in the cause of one year 33 years ago. When we enrolled at the Leiden University to study political sciences, we became close friends that shared our college lives in that old Dutch academic city. Six young people, two female and four male, of complete different backgrounds and all with our own individual outlooks on life, somehow managed to be a very coherent group. That would never change.

Or so we thought. But life interfered. Even though our friendship did not evaporate, it surely faded. Career, relations, moves, maturing, it all contributed to the lack of interaction that followed. I'm sure we are not unique in that, many will recognize this unintentional change of emotions that happen, without any real conviction how to prevent it. Even though some friends occasionally got together at special events – a wedding, a priest ordination, a funeral - true friendship was not reactivated for many, many years.

I am not sure anymore who decided to turn this around, almost 35 years after we went our own separate ways. But there were talks about a get-together, a reunion that would reestablish our friendship. Almost as a prologue, so to speak, two of the four male students and I decided to meet at the Fitland wellness center in Leiden in February of this year. It was a warm meeting, in several ways, a fine day that blew away a 35 year hiatus in friendship. It was a great day.

But when it was followed by a second Fitland visit in June, I missed that February feeling. I suddenly did not feel at ease, almost embarrassed by our nakedness, looking away, trying to cover up that unease feeling by a forced and acted indifference. What happened?
It was not until my Fitland visits after that June college friends get-together that I realized what was missing. There are a few friends that are constant factors in my everyday life for many years. I enjoy Fitland with them too. One of them is a younger relative that I know for almost 20 years. I could be his father in age. Enjoying the Fitland spa with him made me realize the difference with the college friends sauna days. It is that total lack on inhibition while being your complete self in the presence of someone else, talking about things, people, joking about body parts, listening to each other life's stories ranging from work to children, in a way you would never do with someone else. Ranging from serious to pubertal, while being grownups. It is life compressed in a few hours of sauna, swimming pool and restaurant.

So, what are we looking at here? Our alma mater friendship was waiting in a box, and it blooms when you take it out into the biosphere of our college lives, because it was crafted in that special environment and under specific circumstances that is called student life. But when you separate it from the emotions that created it 40 years ago, as when happened during the June wellness visit, it does not really come to life. And that first Fitland gathering? We would have enjoyed it if we were sitting on kitchen chairs in the middle of a meadow. But mind you, such a specific college friendship is not a bad thing at all. It has its own place in life, and should be celebrated that way.
So, what about our big six student reunion? It was a great weekend, we enjoyed each others company in a way I will never forget. Some friends' characters changed, some were still the same, all forming an inspiring and diverse group of people. A reunion that is worthy of a reprise. Because there and then we indulged ourselves in our old college friendship. That's how we should cherish it.

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