It's been eighty days since the last trace of rainfall in Phoenix, yet somehow we are expected to take comfort in the knowledge that we can purchase all the Bob Marley recordings we want at the local Wal-Mart. I come by this information via the Facebook sidebar, my constant companion in these days of loss and confusion. Ah, but 'tweren't so very long ago that life here on this madly spinning orb held together a might bit simpler. When I was intellectually not much bigger than a scab on my daddy's knee cap, I came upon the infinite delight of attending a madcap cocoon of a world known as Marshall University. Just to give you some idea of how many centuries ago those halcyon days of yore must have been, I recollect the in-state tuition for that thing the old folks called higher education ran about $168 for a twelve-plus credit hour semester. Nowadays the tuition expense tips the scales at just over a quarter million, I imagine. But lucky me, I had a tennis scholarship my first year there, back in late 1976, a funding source I recall never using, which is just as well since I almost immediately found myself on academic probation.
1976 was an important year and for all the wrong reasons. As I've reminded readers elsewhere, this was the year of the bicentennial and all the attendant hoopla that accompanied the 200th birthday of the Declaration of Independence. It was also a year when the popular music I loved began taking an unapologetic defecation on the listening audience, unless Peter Frampton and Gary Wright are your idea of a fun evening, in which case perhaps it's your education we should be discussing instead of mine.
After a few semesters of holing up with the collected works of Dr. Demento, I finally got what was left of my head together and started applying my mind to the tasks at hand. Primarily, my tasks were to figure out what all this education stuff truly did portend. So I went to a lot of movies, attended multiple boring rock concerts, and hung out as much as possible in the Marshall Student Union cafeteria. Now that last item is where my genuine education took place. Because I had read a little bit and had a fondness for interdisciplinary studies, I conned a few professors into working the cafeteria into their busy rounds.
And why not? The coffee was cheap, the service virtually nonexistent, and people appeared to very much enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the cafeteria. With a few exceptions, I stopped attending classes altogether and instead brought to the table--as it were--degreed ladies and gentlemen from Sociology, Psychology, Criminal Justice, English, and elsewhere. The distractions were plentiful, I'll admit. But aside from the gems and occasional iron pyrite of knowledge I gained, the most important thing to emerge from these day-long sessions was a respect for the people I had the good fortune to meet.
Granted, some of these people were crazy as loons. Those were the ones I loved the most. I don't mean that they were seriously mentally ill. I mean that their understanding of the world struck me as every bit as unfit for civilized society as my own. These were some very intelligent people I'm talking about, people who would go on to become published writers, educators, vice-presidents of corporations, artists, designers, scientists, psychologists, musicians, in some cases doing quite well financially and in others barely eking out a living, but in each case becoming the ultimate manifestation of their own ability to transcend the shackles that had brought them to Marshall in the first place.
One of the few things that I actually favor about social media (you might assume I love the stuff, but you'd be incorrect) is that Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and the others have permitted me to reconnect with many of these wonderful people. And so occasionally I choose to believe that I never quite got around to leaving Marshall. (There's a familiar expression popular with English teachers. It's applied to the state of mind involved in reading a piece of fiction: the willing suspension of disbelief. This is the state of mind I use in my day-to-day existence.)
Please do not conclude that I have not changed at all. I suspect I have evolved, or at least mutated. But I still read many of the same authors, indulge many of the same philosophies, imbibe the same beverages, and treasure the same people now as I did then. Arguably, I value them even more now. Being closer today to my own personal end of time than I was in 1976-1982, the essence of these rare and wondrous people are perhaps closer to me now than they were even then.
Good fortune has permitted me to make several similarly glorious friends in the years that followed. However, I have on occasion found myself realizing that I often measure the importance of a given friendship based on how it compares to those I made at Marshall.
I have no particular point to draw from any of this, other than the one I've been working out for myself for decades. Friendship is the only goal that matters. After all this time, that's still the only thing I know for certain. Here's wishing you a similar degree of clarity.