“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” at Princeton

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” — The Italian poet Dante begins “The Inferno” with those words, “Midway upon the journey of our life,” interpreted to mean when he was 35 years old. That passage came to me after I read the survey from my 35th Princeton reunion, held in May. A staple of Reunions activities, the  survey tracks the lives and thoughts of my fellow Tigers of the Great Class of 1980.

This year’s survey hit me harder than past ones. While my classmates and I are in our late 50s, we are more middle-aged as Princeton classes go — after 35 years, we’re in the center of the long orange line that marches across campus in the P-rade that’s the highlight of Reunions. The Old Guard, the men (still men for a couple more decades, and then the relentless logic of coeducation and the actuarial tables will kick in) and the families form up starting with the Old Guard and moving back, year by year, to the class that is graduating in a few days. From the centenarians to the 22-year olds, we’re all there. My own favorite Old Guard memory: Seeing Judge Harold Medina ’09 in a golf cart, looking dapper at Reunions in the 1980s — he lived to be 102 and theoretically could have made his 80th Reunion in 1989.

The survey reflected the issues of aging baby boomers: places to visit, 12 percent with grandchildren, location changes and impending retirement, caring for our own aging parents, dozens of comments on career advice, political beliefs. I could pick out some of the comments I made, and I identified with others.

The responses became emotionally grueling when they reached the question about regrets; we all have them. Divorce, living in fear, insecurities, not spending time with parents, no children, no family, limited risk-taking, depression, misplaced values, i nodded my head at several of these, although I never made the mistake of “selling Apple stock,” since I never had any to begin with.

The P-rade sign ideas, mostly jovial, revealed some dark undertones of issues swirling around me as an undergrad that I never imagined, like, “Fear of physical violence as a gay man all my time at Princeton,” Several other sign ideas made that point. I never knew. I never suspected. Was I blind, wrapped in my own gnawing insecurities and academic struggles? Reading these I cringed at the idea of people I know feeling unsafe at Princeton–the fishbowl so apart, I thought, from the mean world. but it wasn’t. And then there was my sign contribution: “A memory: Getting blindly drunk as a freshman, the first time in my life. A valuable learning experience!”

In the middle of the journey of our Princeton life, I hope the classmates who felt unsafe have found their secure harbor in a more accepting society, and that those with regrets balance them with other sources of happiness and peace of mind as we edge closer to the front of the P-rade line. Every five years brings a time to take the pulse of the class. If this is 35, the center between youth and age, what will 70 be, in 2050, closer to the end? I hope to still be around to find out and post another update.

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