Back in the early 1970s, at the height of my self-delusion of single handedly saving the world, I applied to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH. I remember writing the required biographical essay in language so flowery that I had to water it before sealing it in the envelope. So filled with myself at the time I might have included a photo of me in leotards and a cape. I never heard back from Antioch, not even a form rejection letter. I think it was the cape, though it might have been the leotards.
Some forty-five years later, Carol, myself and her sister are riding past what's left of Antioch College on our way to another Madigan/Champagne meet and greet, this time with her middle sister Mary Jane here in Yellow Springs.
In 1974 at the time of my application, Antioch found itself at the nexus of the civil rights and antiwar movements. Having taken to the streets in the cause of civil rights and against the Vietnam war, Antioch was the corner I wanted to hang out on. Now more than forty years later, and having proven at times to have been barely able to have saved myself, I'd finally arrived at Antioch, not to save the world any longer, but to commiserate on the movement forward after irreplaceable loss.
That loss had occurred for all three of us at more or less the same time - April/May 2017. What I learned was that a shared moment in time does not translate into a shared road forward. There is nothing, as Carol and I had learned already, about deep, personal loss that can be offered therapeutically, only acknowledged in empathy. We found, though, that empathy could unfold quite cheerfully in front of a crackling fire with wine and some old albums from the Sixties played on a sweet Kenwood turntable through a pair of Advent box speakers. It was like a scene from a septuagenarian version of The Big Chill.
What I think we achieved though on those cold evenings with the Polar Vortex bearing its Big Chill all around us was to ride a big wave of memory back to our respective youths, when our whole happy lives were before us, and we honestly believed the world could be changed by more or less just walking in unison.
That it couldn't had nothing to do with the sincerity or honesty of our beliefs, just as once believing in Happily Ever After used to mean something very different than it turned out to for the three of us. Just as marchers had to learn that to change the world fundamentally meant changing themselves, widows learn that Happily Ever After means living every moment as if it could be the last.
A couple of the albums we listened to on those nights were from Bob Dylan. His best work was when he could singularly etch the ironies that form a lived life as in this from “My Back Pages”:
My guard stood hard
When abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad I describe these terms
Quite clear no doubt somehow
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now
And when widows come to know the painful irony of Happily Ever After is when they begin to take those first steps forward again.