I’m writing this morning from a hotel in Napier, Illinois, which borders Wheaton, Illinois, home of Wheaton College, which, for the last four years, has been home for my nephew, Scott, who graduated yesterday. As much of the family as could get here gathered to celebrate him and his achievement, as well as making time for Mother’s Day and closing it all out with Ginger’s birthday celebration at Portillo’s, a Chicago favorite (or so we were told).
Scott is one of the good guys. No — one of the great guys. He has a strong mind, a huge heart, a free spirit, a great voice, and he plays a mean guitar. Saturday night we got to hear his bluegrass band, The Creepers, play their final concert together. The band was born out of their friendships. When they arrived on campus four years ago, a bunch of guys on the same hall started jamming together on Saturday mornings and from there they grew into a band that has been, arguably, the biggest draw on the Wheaton campus. The families of the guys gathered at the house of the sister of the fiancée of one of them and listened and laughed with them for a couple of hours as they sang their way back through their memories into the present tense and the tangible bonds of love that we could see connecting them as they serenaded us.
I couldn’t help but think of Pierce Pettis’ wonderful lyric to “You’re Gonna Need This Memory”:
if all we got for all our trouble
is just this box of souvenirs
still it’s worth a lot just to remember
just so we know that we were here
We were altar builders, conspirators of indelible hope, singing and clapping and laughing and loving our way into a memory that marked us all. We did not leave the same as we had come because the guys dared to friend each other (if I can borrow a Facebook verb) with such reckless abandon. They spent four years singing and playing and caring about each other without plans to hit the road or record a hit; they have been friends for the sake of being friends, singing their own soundtrack, and are now striking out in different directions, yet still tethered by the bonds of love.
I’ve only got a couple of paragraphs before I have to pack and start working our way back to Durham and the ties that bind us there, but I’ve spent the morning in memories of my own, grateful for friends from dorm rooms long ago, with whom I gathered for jam sessions of our own (even singing some of the same songs) – grateful that I can say to Scott with some certainty that love of friends and family travels well, reaches far, and reminds us who we are.