Even before I’d gone away to Canterbury, and away was quite far away – Texas to Connecticut – I’d loved books like that great Victorian classic Tom Brown’s School Days. I continue avidly to devour stories set in schools as well as colleges and perhaps have even exaggerated my status as an old schoolboy. I still have the same tastes in clothes I did when I was sixteen. So having no biological heirs, it was natural that I thought about doing some good with whatever might be left of my IRA and that I’d decided some months ago to leave the lion’s share (and in Aesop’s original the lion takes the lot) to Canterbury. Like so many other important decisions I have made in my life – to be an English major, to go to graduate school, to get a doctorate, to become a professor, to join the Episcopal Church, to become a hospital chaplain – my choice wasn’t the product of a long process or discernment and reflection. But even though a school benefactor, I believed that what is past is past. Going back to the campus was nothing I had ever intended to do. I never went in for things like class reunions and was sure that anybody who thought that his school days were the best years of his life must be utterly daft. But a one-hundredth anniversary appealed to me in a strange way. Canterbury was founded in 1915 – was scarcely forty when I was there. But at a hundred, now that’s old-school! And there was another feature I’d not thought about. Because it was a centenary, not a class reunion, there would be graduates there from many of the more recent classes, especially alumnae. I had always been sure that admitting girls – which we first did in 1971 – was the best thing that had ever happened to the place, but I was curious to meet some of them for myself. And quite frankly, I also wanted to see what my money was going for. Was I making a Quixotic gesture based on unrealistic and out-of-date fantasies of what school meant these days?
After arriving on campus I was so pleased to find that all of the buildings from my day still very much remained, especially the three houses that had been our dorms, North, South, and Middle House, now renamed Duffy, Carter, and Sheehan House. I had especially wanted to stay on the campus. Over the past few years I’d sometimes had very vivid dreams of being back at Canterbury, not as a schoolboy but as an adult though doing what I don’t know. The dreams had given me some anxiety but I found the reality very restful. The dorm I was staying in was a new South House – from the washroom facilities obviously a girls’ dorm that had of course not existed in my day. And in the common room I encountered three members of our class of ’59, Roland Droitsch, Tim Kuser, and Tucker Koenig, who with a couple of spouses were staying there as well as a bunch of ‘65s who were having a major reunion. Because we all wore badges with our class year and first names in big letters, it felt so natural to address alumni and alumnae of very different ages and get called “Bill” by people who till that moment had never laid eyes on me. Throughout the weekend it made me feel very uninhibited in striking up a conversation with strangers – something as an introvert I have a lot of anxiety about. But of course we weren’t strangers because we all had one huge thing in common, the school, the very setting we were now in for three days together.
For the centennial weekend there were these little electric carts to ferry us around the campus, but I always persisted in walking, partly from a refusal to yield to aged decrepitude but mostly because I wanted to experience insofar as I was still able what it had been like for me for me as a schoolboy. And it was walking about these three days that made me aware of just why I had to come this way again, that, to steal a phrase from Ezra Pound, the past wasn’t dead – it wasn’t even past. As I walked towards the chapel at the top of the hill for the memorial service for the alumni that June afternoon, I passed the circular drive in front of Middle House. Suddenly I imagined I could see it again as it was in 1957, with station wagons and parents in camel hair coats with red setter dogs in the back dropping off or picking up their sons. As I trudged up the hill towards the chapel it was as if my 16 year-old self were sharing my 73 year old body with my present self. Sometimes the two of us would get into dialogue, as when I started feeling a bit achy and off-balance.
B.K. (then) You sure turned into a rickety and creaky old wreck.
B.K. (now) Nonsense. You had a better face, but I’ve got a better figure than you ever had. Remember how you were so self-conscious about your big butt?
And I recalled so vividly what it was like in December so long ago. We had chapel every evening at five-thirty and it was already dark and we wore hooded parkas of loden cloth against the cold though some took pride in going coatless – we called them the polar bears. Of course dark suits or grey flannel trousers with blue blazers were required and a chapel proctor stood at the door to check our appearance. Not that we had to be uniform; the movies always get it wrong, showing prep school boys in identical striped ties and blazers and looking like The Warblers on Glee. Back then we had a strange fad for white woollen athletic socks and while with dark trousers and black shoes they looked ridiculous, we tried to sneak them in past the chapel or dining hall proctors. Teenagers always have a passion for trying to subvert official dress codes.
Except for having been lengthened, the chapel seemed very little different from my day except of course the altar had been moved out to allow the celebrant to face the congregation. Our tradition was to give the title sacristan to what would be called an altar boy in most Catholic parishes and I was pleased to see that tradition yet endured, and even more pleased to notice that one of the sacristans was a petite blonde girl – another great improvement. I was also pleasantly surprised that we still sang the school hymn, Ut Cantuaria floreat (That Canterbury may flourish) in Latin – now I can read that language much better than I could as a schoolboy – something to be said for a life of scholarship. None of our class were listed in the necrology, though I noticed Joe King’s name on the list. He’d been a fifth former and followed on to Georgetown with me and we had both tried to affect a certain degree of literary and social sophistication and I had wondered what became of him. I said some prayers for his soul..
After wandering about in the late afternoon I stopped back under the big tent to wait till dinnertime. There was a slide show of great moments in Canterbury athletic history which seemed to have little to offer me, but then I was very struck by the picture of the 1981 girls’ soccer team which won the New England small school girls’ championship, defeating Governor Dummer Academy. A flashback. Schools have their orders of precedence and my sixteen-year-old self heard our old classmate Daniel Murphy intoning, “Governor Dummer! Where they get dumber and dumber” as we recited the list – I think it included Cheshire Academy – of likely refuges for Canterbury flunk outs. And now we were not only smarter; our girls had made us better athletes too.
At dinner under the tent the Droitsches, the Koernigs, Kuser, and I were joined by a veritable Olympian of ’59, John Duffy, halfback on the soccer team, captain of the hockey team, sacristan, and proctor. He is also perhaps our most distinguished alumnus and benefactor. Former chairman of the board of trustees – North House had been renamed Duffy House in his honor. It felt new and wonderful to be sitting at the same with him once more after 56 years and if not quite as an equal at least being in the same echelon. The passage of time has a way of blurring those schoolboy matters of precedence.
Even more moving was the presence at our table of another ancient figure from my past, Mr. Viau, who’d been a French master. I am still a little ashamed of what an indifferent French student I was, entirely because memorization bored me and I then imagined I was going to have a literary life and had plenty of time to perfect my French later hanging in Left Bank cafés with existentialists and girls wearing black tights and turtlenecks. (Let me say in mitigation that I did stay with the language and still read Le Monde everyday on line, though neither the existentialists nor the girls in black tights ever played a big enough part in my life!) Jules, as I now think of him, must surely be in his 90s, and he started talking instead to me about my brother Tony (’63) and the time Tony managed to lose a basketball game for Canterbury through over-eagerness and goal tending. But then Jules told me something he knew about me, that I’d been totally unaware of. My fifth-form English master, Jim Moore, worked in the summers at the ETS in Princeton marking AP English exams, and Jules tole me that he had identified one of the exam papers as being mine on account of its distinctive prose style.
That nearly floored me. Did I already have a unique style as a schoolboy? Did I still write like that 56 years later. Fortunately the Canterbury alumni office had kindly reproduced some of my columns that I’d written so long for The Tabard, the school paper, where I’d tried to write a humor column. When I had returned to Iowa I dug them out. Here’s a passage from piece published in November, 1958 beginning: “Many among the lower forms would like to know just what happens at a meeting of that dreaded and hallowed organization, the Senior Council. Since the meetings are held with a dread secrecy which makes a solemn conclave of the thirty third degree masons or the Grand Dragons of the Klu Klux Klan appear as if it were an open air forum, we will here tell the under-forms just what occurs at one of these dread meetings, so that if they are summoned before this reincarnation of the Chinese Hatchet Society they will approach armed with intellectual knowledge into the forum of the dispensation of justice, not quaking with ignorance before the font of almighty justice.” I have no memory at all of whatever the Senior Council did (maybe it was a tribunal of selected proctors charged with dealing with students charged with minor disciplinary offenses – termed in those days “general hacking”). But OMG, that prose style really is me still today – the leisurely cumulative sentences and with what Mrs. Malaprop with call my “nice derangement of epitaphs” along with the slightly Transatlantic flavour. I’d been trying to sound like The New Yorker, but my schoolboy prose sounds more like Punch circa 1912. A couple of years before I’d ever read Jonathan Swift, it now is obvious in hindsight that I was fated to become a specialist in British literature and satire. Ten years later I’d be in graduate school finishing a dissertation entitled Neoclassical English Satire. Quite unconsciously, I’d already known what I was called to do with a good part of my life and was already developing my store of gifts and talents in preparation for my academic career.
Waking up in the new South House the next morning was not at all like those anxious dreams I’d been having. The room and furniture felt lighter and airier and the sanitary facilities were much better than they were in my day. We then had to go all the way up to the gym to take a shower and probably were pretty smelly little barbarians. A feminine presence certainly made a huge difference. Whenever I encountered an alumna, I found myself congratulating her on having done so much to make Canterbury a better and more civilized school. Perhaps I seemed like a balmy old fossil to the women graduates, but I couldn’t help overflowing with gratitude. Perhaps that wasn’t my current self at all speaking, but my schoolboy self reminding us of just what little savages we were and our absence of social skills and polite manners.
On Saturday morning I had time before breakfast at seven for an early morning solitary walk around the campus. Everything I remembered was still there, though most buildings had changed their names and some their functions. In my day North House housed the dining hall and the headmaster’s quarters and the headmaster’s family had a crazy Irish setter that used to run round the building barking at five in the morning. Now the old dining hall is an art studio and the present headmaster has a big house on top of the hill, which also features new dormitories, gymnasia, and athletic facilities, as well as Steele Hall, which houses administrative offices, the library, and the dining hall. This is how historical change is supposed to work, it occurred to me; all the good things from the past are preserved alongside the welcome improvements. So now we have girl students, more spacious and comfortable dorms – though still pretty Spartan – and much better facilities for athletics, music and the arts, and recreation. Yet Canterbury is still very recognizably the same school it was when I was there so long ago.
Later that morning I encountered a group of ‘06 alumnae who were standing on the raised terrace on the back side of Middle House facing what had been the soccer field in my day. They were having a smoke, which amused me as they were standing but a few feet away from the window through which my BF Fortune Ryan and I used to climb after midnight to share cigarettes and conversation in the South House basement, which was then the only place we were allowed to smoke. I stopped to speak with them. In my day, that area was reserved usually for sixth formers and termed “the senior terrace” but they had never heard of such a thing. I expect school traditions die out almost as fast as they are born. I wish I’d thought to ask them where they’d lived their senior years and if they’d had any particular traditions.
At ten all the alumni assembled at the top of the hill on Aspetuck Avenue to process to the huge tent set up on the football field for the centenary convocation and I encountered Francis Molanphy, my Cuban classmate who had translated the lyrics of the then popular song La Bomba for me. They were easy to memorize: “The bomb, the bomb, the bomb. With a little bit of grace you can do the bomb.” It was revived again when I was in my forties and then my sixties and never having to hear it again certainly removes one sting from the prospect of death. Fidel Castro took over that winter and Molanphy’s family escaped to New York, where he still lives. And to think, Fidel is still there and we have just made peace with him after all these years. Our class marched with the other relics from the ‘50s and ‘60s as “the Old Guard” at the end of the file, a position I rather liked as it gave us a sight of how many generations of Canterbury students had followed us.
Speakers at the convocation included two alumni who especially impressed me. One was Lawrence Aaron ’65, who was our first black graduate. He spoke about how intimidated he felt when he arrived as our first student of color at the first weekly school assembly, In those days – as I well recalled – it was held in the South House common room and we all sat on the floor. He was not sure with whom he should sit and then some other sixth formers took him under their wings and said, “We sit over here” and took him to join them. At that moment I felt a sense of kinship with him. Though I was the same color as everybody else, when I first arrived from Texas I had felt very much a stranger myself and then I recalled how quickly I’d come to feel that I’d been there practically forever. That sense of belonging that enveloped me so long ago kept recurring over the weekend. Later I encountered Lawrence Aaron in the second floor washroom of the dorm and thanked him for his presentation and sharing his experiences. Our educational institutions talk a lot about “diversity” these days but I don’t think they get it quite right. It’s not just a matter of getting a lot of students from different backgrounds – it’s about getting students of different backgrounds to feel a common sense of belonging to each other. “We sit over here.” This was to be a repeated motif in my life. Whenever you’re part of something with a strong sense of identity and mutual respect, it doesn’t have a name, whether it’s a school or a yacht crew or a hospital nursing unit. It’s just “we” and “us.”
I identified ever more with another convocation speaker, Judith Sullivan, ’74, an alumna from the first class of girls to graduate Canterbury. What bowled me over was that she is now the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia. Which would have seemed more astonishing to us back in my day, that a boys’ school would one day be honoring an alumna, or a Catholic school be honoring an Episcopalian? As I am now an Episcopalian myself, I made sure to speak with her for a minute after the ceremony. She told me she’d not left the Catholic church for negative reasons, but because she wanted to fulfill her vocation to ordained ministry. I told her I too had wanted to pursue new opportunities for spiritual growth and that I still believed the same things I used to but now worshipped in a different community. Hope to stay in touch with her on Facebook and I wonder how how many other Canterbury alumni are now Episcopalians. As Episcopal college chaplaincies are often called Canterbury Associations, maybe we can found the Canterbury Canterbury Association.
The closing speaker at the Convocation was Tom Sheehy, the Headmaster, who had served for a quarter century, a huge honor in itself. He was only the fifth Headmaster of Canterbury in a century. (He was wearing striped socks and deck shoes with his blue blazer and Canterbury tie – that last rather an innovation that I’m still getting used to – as I usually do myself.) We had some good figures on the endowment and the enrollments. I was quite surprised to discover that the current student body was one third day students – there were only two in my entire class and one was Tucker, the science master’s son. But that made sense in a way as the entire Danbury and New Milford region seems to have morphed into a huge suburb. But then the Headmaster started quoting from the school mission statement. Now I have attended numberless meetings of universities, colleges, hospitals, and churches, and heard their mission statements quoted, and most of them are sheer feel-good bromides. The good ones, though, tell you just what it is we try to do. At the hospital where I work as a chaplain it’s “To provide the care we’d want our loved ones to receive.” That’s a good one. Canterbury’s is a bit long, but the key sentence is: The School prides itself on creating a community based on its Five Values – Honesty, Respect, Compassion, Spirituality, and Self-Reliance – where students and faculty forge lasting bonds and every student experiences a broad and challenging program in a small school setting.” The Headmaster quoted the five values: Honesty, Respect, Compassion, Spirituality, and Self-Reliance. And then I felt that little shiver when the Holy Spirit’s tail feathers are tickling the back of my neck and everything made sense.
In autumn of the previous year, Jennifer Toussaint from the school development office had visited Iowa City and afterwards helped me set up the endowment of a scholarship which would, God willing, pay for some girl or boy to go to Canterbury so long as the school may endure. I was also asked to write a brief testimonial to tell why I was giving to Canterbury. What I’d been reflecting on was how the kind of educational experience that I thought Canterbury offered differed from that of most schools, public and private, and that was that Canterbury provided not simply an education, but a formation. As I put it t:
Formation is made up of three areas. The first spiritual and moral values, which for Canterbury is summed up by the motto supercertari semel traditae sanctis fidei–to contend earnestly for the faith once handed down to the saints–Catholic Christian tradition and teachings. The second part is community, and that is why being a boarding pupil is such a privilege, because we need to be together for twenty-four hours a day to acquire a strong sense of belonging to each other and to our school. Being close and yet respecting privacy and boundaries while observing a code of conduct upholding personal and academic standards is essential to provide the setting for ethos, or character, the final element of a formation. Our ethos is something that goes with us throughout our lives. Having an ethos does not mean that all alumnae and alumni think alike, but rather that we will assume that certain principles are true and serve as the basis of our behavior in both public and private life. A formation comprises values, community, and ethos.
At that moment as I listened to the headmaster speak, I knew that Canterbury is indeed the school that I had thought it was, and that I was being offered a great privilege in having this opportunity to continuing the school’s mission. That condition of belonging to each other and to the school had not ended fifty-six years ago when our class graduated but that it was still true and it embraced all of us – graduates, current students, and all of those who would become students so long as Canterbury endured.
After the convocation we had the opportunity to have lunch with our choice of different groups of current faculty and students representing various activities such as drama, sports, or the arts. Having written for the school newspaper and been an editor myself during my academic career at Iowa, I was drawn to joining the publications group. I met a couple of English teachers and found out that they were interviewing alumni for a visual history project. Normally such a prospect would daunt me, but I was still feeling so much euphoria from the convocation that I offered to contribute. So soon I was taken to the recording studio and given a wire – which made me feel like an undercover informant – and found myself facing a video camera. The opening question was, “How would you describe your experience at Canterbury in one word?”
I’d known the right word since the convocation and said immediately: “Belonging.” After that I’ve not much recollection of what I said – I’d like to watch the CD to find out what I actually did say, as I fear my thoughts went straight from my mind to my lips without stopping even in my short term memory. But I hope I didn’t come through as an old geezer rambling on about how things were “in my day”; I’m sure I mentioned how much the presence of girls must have done to class up the place & what little barbarians an all boys school comprises. And I think I spoke of the privilege of being a boarder and how quickly the experience of being together “twenty four seven” made you feel you belonged when you were a new school. I mentioned how moved I was that while the campus boasted so many wonderful new facilities, it was pleasing that everything I remembered was still there, including the very dormitory window that my best friend and I used to climb through after midnight to make our way to smoke in the basement of South House. What a privilege it was to be part of a community.
“Twenty four seven” indeed. That afternoon I needed to take myself into New Milford in search of coffee and other supplies – could we ever have imagined such a thing as a microwave in our dorm? The town green still beautifully embodies the grace and beauty I associate with the phrase “New England town”; we were only very seldom allowed off campus. About twenty years later I read a novel set at Miss Porter’s in Farmington and was surprised how much more freedom the girls had to go about town. Now though the suburban sprawl has devoured what I’d remembered still as farm fields. Doubtless a cause of the great increase in day students though it’s too bad they miss out on some of the best parts of belonging.
The high point of the weekend was Saturday night’s “Party of the Century” held under the huge tent that covered the football field but it was still a formal occasion and we were expected to dress properly. I was amused, as I always am the few times these days I’m still called on to look respectable, that my costume is still exactly the same as it was for the dining room when I was sixteen – grey trousers, white Brooks Bros. button down shirt, dark blue blazer, striped tie. Black shoes of course. Slip ons. (If a man has to travel round the world with but one pair of shoes, black slip ons are your answer, suitable everywhere, whether for the beach or for a state funeral.) When I was a student at Canterbury, I don’t think a single day passed when we weren’t expected to wear a necktie at least for dinner, even Saturdays, so it was amusing when Leah discovered that Roland had forgot to bring one. I lent him the striped one with school colors I’d intended to wear and instead wore that new official tie with the school shield. (I hope they don’t call it a “logo”- please God!) At the banquet I just loved seeing the alumnae in their party dresses, lots of the standard little black cocktail dresses but quite a few more colorful and reveling numbers. I was struck as well by how many of the younger alumni were wearing dark suits just like we would have worn in the dining hall when I was sixteen. Classics never go out of style.
Under the tent there was a dance floor surrounded by tables for six and then round the edges for the stations with the buffet. As we entered we passed the open bar which was specializing in blue mojitos – blue for the school color. Fortunately they had the good taste to serve everybody, even the just graduated class of ’15. (Imagine trying to explain American liquor laws to a Frenchman!) Of course they stayed up dancing till four a.m. and all got drunk as skunks At their age I would have too. Glad the caterers weren’t carding them though or I’d have had to stay up to fetch the under-twenty-ones drinks. As for me, I’m clean these days – only imbibed a glass of plain tonic water all night. As I was filling my plate at a buffet station I encountered Glenn from the development office who asked me if I’d seen Jennifer yet and I told him I’d missed her far. He told me she was wearing a red dress Kept looking at the other tables to see if I’d spot her. After seeing her in Iowa City last year, I was really hoping to catch up with her again and I think I would have even taken the risk of asking her to dance right there. But didn’t spot her. Managed a couple of twirls with Leah, though.
By the time we’d finished dinner, darkness had fallen and we all went outside the tent to watch the celebratory fireworks. I’ve loved pyrotechnics for years and as I wanted to make an early night of it I wandered away from the crowd into the darkness, finding a venue along with a couple of alumnae at the edge of Aspetuck Avenue were we had a good view of the show. As I watched, memories of some of the most moving fireworks displays I’d witnessed in my life since I’d last been at Canterbury came back. On the lawn at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club the last night of Cowes Week in ’66 with a girl named Annette who was reading maths at Oxford at Lady Margaret Hall. With Laura at City Park in Iowa City 4th of July ’86. With Jan at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids in July 3 of ’97. And again in Cedar Rapids on July ’07 on the roof of the parking ramp across the street from St. Luke’s Hospital and then the pager started beeping for me to go to the ER. Some crazy had run amok at party with a machete and we had three stabbing victims and a couple of dozen screaming friends and relatives. It was the only time I ever had to call my backup to come in to help cover and I got a chance to perform – albeit in a very small role – in a cop show with real cops. That was just after I retired from teaching and was about to go to Omaha as a full-time chaplain resident. Sailing, travel, scholarship, relationships, spirituality, chaplaincy – like seeing the significant parts of my life exploding in a shower of light in the night sky as I was now drawing towards the close of the circle, each stage illuminated by its own fireworks display.
Sunday was the last day and I put on khaki shorts, white Puma shoes and the St. Luke’s Hospital Air Ambulance tee that the flight nurses had given me. (No, I don’t get to fly in the helicopter but they’re the float in the ER when they’re not flying. And if anybody wants to think when they see me in the tee that I pilot the chopper, let ‘em!) I wanted to walk over some of the paths that led from the campus into the countryside that my BF Fortune Ryan and I used to walk weekends but soon found that they’d now been paved and built up with suburban houses. So at seven I went to breakfast instead. It was a lovely summer morning and I went to sit down outside and encountered my old classmate John Duffy again. He was sitting with an attractive dark-haired woman whom he introduced as his daughter Hilary, class of ’87. She proved to be witty and intelligent and I couldn’t resist observing to her that unlike a certain well-known politician, she knew how to spell her name properly, which made her look amused. Hilary said she was a photographer, lived in New York, and traveled to Latin America a lot. We were joined again by Glenn and I found myself with an unaccustomed but very pleasurable sense that for a short time I’d been admitted into the inner circle, sitting there with namesake of Duffy (formerly North) House and captain of the hockey team, dressed like me but wearing a Newport Yacht Club polo shirt. So I shared a little of my former sailing life and Hilary looked impressed when I mentioned crewing five Fastnet races. (I didn’t tell them I’d missed the really bad weather one in ’73.) It felt good to be there with them. Could I have imagined so long ago watching the soccer team that fifty six years later I’ve be back at school breakfasting with one of the half-backs and his daughter?
Sunday centennial mass at the chapel was at ten. Again we were reminded to appear somewhat formal. This time I wore a dark red blazer ($7 at the Mennonite Thrift Shop and virtually new) with pink button-down – I study the ads in Monocle then try to reproduce the look on the cheap – with the striped tie reclaimed from Roland and khakis. Attendance at church was about a twentieth of last night’s party of the century. Since I became an Episcopalian some twenty years ago, the Catholics had modified their liturgy a bit and I was never quite sure whether to respond to “The Lord be with You” with “And with thy Spirit” or “And also with you” or “And with your Spirit” or what. I wondered if anyone would have any qualms about my receiving Holy Communion as an Episcopalian, but this is my school and my chapel and it’s the right thing to do and I did. At the close of the service we sang the Canterbury School hymn in Latin.
I finally caught up with Jennifer on the brick walk leading to the Old School House, which in my day had also contained the labs, the study hall, and the library. She was wearing a blue summer dress with white polka dots and standing next to the headmaster. Jennifer gave me a hug and the headmaster shook my hand. I felt a bit like a student who’d just turned in his final exam paper. I’d accomplished everything that was expected: made arrangements with my broker and the advancement office to fund the scholarship, driven a thousand miles,spent two nights in residence at the school, participated in all the centennial observances, and been welcomed home after so many years.
After the dedication of the brick walk, I slowly followed the path back to the new South House dorm, thinking of how often I’d walked that way as a schoolboy. Now I said a quick prayer of thanksgiving for having had such wonderful parents, my mother for having wanted me to go here and my father for paying for it. It wasn’t lunchtime yet but after nearly two very intense days I was already getting the “I stayed too long at the fair” vibes that tell me the party’s over. Changed into travel jeans ($3 at the thrift shop) and helicopter tee and schlepped my luggage out to the car. My dreams had literally come true. I had returned and stayed in the school dorm, even though I’d not known this one existed. I thought of doing a final walk across the campus up to the tent on the athletic fields again, but decided to drive so I could make a clean getaway, not to mention that my ancient bones were beginning to ache from so much walking.
It was easy to find a place to park near the tent; most of the alumni had already departed. Fortunately I found Jennifer at lunch and could finally have a chat with her. I cannot recall what I said, though I believe I was rather effusive about how much the weekend had meant to me and how glad I was that I had finally returned. Another classmate, John Donovan, joined us along with his wife. I recalled his room had also been on our floor right round the corner from the one I’d shared with Molanphy and Davidson before I’d been able to move down the hall to a single. Like Duffy, Donovan had become a major figure among the alumni too, and would be on the committee to choose a new headmaster when Tom Sheehy would retire after twenty-five years. John now lived part of the time in the wilds of Montana near Glacier Park, where during the summer vacation Canterbury students could go on wilderness adventures and survival training. But he also lived in Los Angeles where he was a big entertainment industry lawyer. Reflecting later, I found the contrast between his vocation and mine amusing. He got to represent people who made ER and cop shows. But as a chaplain I actually get to work in a real ER, sometimes with real gunshot victims and real cops.
Jennifer told me she wished I could stay another day because she wanted to show me the Franklin Roosevelt house in Hyde Park, to reciprocated for my having taken her to the Hoover Museum when she was out in Iowa. But I had to drive to Pennsylvania that afternoon to visit my brother. But I hope we can do it if I’m ever back that way again.
I didn’t look back as I drove back down the hill towards the New Milford town green and away. It felt as if my sixteen-year old self who’d been with me for two days had now left my side. And just the night before it’d been like being at a party with some 800 friends. And of course we were. We had all been part of the same community and shared the same formation. The past wasn’t past; it remains an essential part of us, our character, our ethos. We don’t pass through life like a train going along a track through different stations. More like the way a ship is built. When we are small children our parents laid down our keels, but it was as teens that our hulls were framed and planked. And Canterbury was a fine yard with excellent naval architects and skilled shipwrights so we could run straight and true. As the school hymn says, “lumen ostendit virtute triumphantium et animas incendit quo magis vernerari” – Canterbury “holds out a lamp triumphant with excellence and kindles our spirits to greater love.”