It’s been a strange 24 hours. My life-long friend Ron received his Doctorate today from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta.
What was strange was the physical and relational context of the graduation. In many ways I am still adjusting to being back to where so many of my early history happened. After two years here in the South, I have had many moments where my past intersected my current life and quite frankly, it still jars me. I’m not used to “exercising those neurons” that have lain dormant for 20 years and in some ways I prefer they stay dormant. It’s not that I don’t like those memories, but they are memories of me as I was, not as I am.
So I start off Friday by driving without wife and daughter for four hours to Atlanta. I haven’t driven that far by myself for non-work reasons in years. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time.
Just being in Atlanta is weird for me, as when I pass an exit (Ashford-Dunwoody Rd.) where my first girlfriend lived at it starts neurons firing away. Where are her parents are now? And where is her brother now and how is his mental health?
If you’ve lived in the same region for a long time, you have a chance to properly blend memories like these into your current life, avoiding this clash of time periods. But for me, I have a 20-30 year gap to contend with.
I stay with dear friends from my undergrad days at Georgia Tech and of course we always talk a little bit about common friends. They keep up with most folks whereas I lost touch of almost everybody during my West Coast decades. Talking about these friends throws even more fuel on the time dissonance fire and it leaves me in a strange purgatory between life stages.
I head off to the graduation, surrounded with physical and relational memories of my 5 years living in Atlanta, and then get to spend time with Ron’s family. I haven’t seen most of them since Ron was married 25 years ago. Most of my memories of them were formed when I was in High School and College, so I’m struck again with that time dissonance. I try to put feelings and thoughts together as they introduce their kids, some of whom are in college, and I’ve never met them before. I want them to be more familiar, but just like me, they’ve changed greatly over the last 25 years.
But this day wasn’t about me. It was about Ron and his earning his Doctorate.
Just like most graduations, there is a charge to the graduates. And like most charges, it reminded them of the responsibility they have to use their education to change our world. It’s encouraging to see many that are my age in the doctoral group with that desire. It’s easy to settle into the later years and coast, letting the younger generation tilt at the windmills, fight the injustice, and right the wrongs.
So in the middle of all this flood of backwards memories, I’m challenged, like the graduates, to go forward. Use my memories, learnings, and relationships to make the world a better place. To strive to improve myself as much as I strived when I was a graduate. To look forward to the coming years with gusto. And that’s why I love the influence Ron has on my life.
Congratulations Ron. You inspire me.
Go Braves! Go Dr. Gonia! Go Everyone! Forward.