29 December 2010

A Quarter Lifetime

Ahh, year’s end, that time when many reminisce the good and lament the bad of times past, and makes promises for times forward. How dull. Let’s not do that. Instead, just one pop back in time, a peek forward, and let’s be done with it.

A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to haunt my alma mater, dear old RPI, or, as the politically and market correct types would now prefer you to say, Rensselaer. I had a meeting a few miles down the road on a mid-day Friday, and afterward, with the prospect of nothing but windshield in front of me for the next few hours, I elected to make hay of the remaining rare solstice daylight. I popped into the far corner of a parking lot, transformed from Meeting Man into Running Tights Man, and headed for campus.

I hadn’t been back in quite a few years, and I hadn’t run on campus since my First Lap days. Even then I’m not sure I ever did the campus tour on fleet foot. The idea just seemed cool, somehow, so in the midst of glum students trudging through finals week, off I set on a trail of memories.

How many times had I made that same trudge over the footbridge crossing 15th Street? The truth? Plenty, but fewer than I should have; my class attendance record wasn’t stellar. How many times through the wind tunnel of the walkway under the engineering center, now made longer and worse by the addition of a new building about the time of my departure? But save that new building, the main campus really hadn’t changed. Past the Holy Church of Computing – a gorgeous old “chapel”, or mini-cathedral as you prefer, transformed into the computing center, which had always struck me as odd – what kind of statement was that? Off the far reach of campus where the new media center, the only other big main campus addition, hung off the side of the hill like a bloated whale suspended high above Troy. Inside, I’m told it’s amazing. Outside, I can’t, even with great charity, compliment the architect.

As with any self-respecting college, RPI sits on a hill, indeed a pretty good sized one. Agony to the students, joy to a runner. After winding most of the way down to the bottom, Sage Avenue offered a great workout heading back up. Memories of the Troy garbage truck which lost its brakes on that hill and crushed a professor friend’s classic VW Beetle one sad day. A quick tour of the dorm area that was home for three years, then up the next hill to the field house, campus apartments, home for my last year, and up and above the massive new stadium. Troubling, in a way, that a school with such a focus on mental power has succumbed to mere athletics as an area of growth. But who am I to complain, when some of our best times back then were following our beloved hockey team, even if most of the players, or ‘pucks’ as we called them, were mostly undecided humanities majors lost amidst a sea of engineers? Indeed, I was one of three, yes, count ‘em, three students who made the thirty-hour marathon trip to catch a few games in Grand Forks, North Dakota. And I’ve never regretted it.

Back down the upper hill, past the wonderful campus church – nothing beats a college church, where only those who want to be there bother showing up – to finish up at the student union. The abused tables inside looked to be the same ones as when I left, but otherwise the place was a seriously brightened version of what I’d left behind.

Twenty five years since I left the place, save a few visits here and there. Seems like a lifetime, but in fact it’s only a third, or a quarter (if you’re lucky) of a lifetime. There are times I think that, approaching fifty (OK, still more than two years out), I’m “getting on” in years. Then I think of all that has transpired in the twenty five years since I left those undergrad haunts, and know that with reasonable self care and a bit of luck, chances are good I’ve got another twenty five before things really start going off the end of the steep slope. At least I hope. But presuming that to be the case, imagine how much is left to enjoy ahead!

I can’t stop the curve ball from left field. Just ask sis about that. But reasonable self care is what I can do to control that which is controllable. Even in my somewhat down state of coming off a year of injuries, the string of which isn’t over yet, I’m still in far better shape today than before I started running almost six years ago. And in that spirit, yesterday my wife and I signed up at a local gym; she for the workouts in general, me for the opportunity to finally put in some resistance and cross training. To kick it off, I ran the four and change to get down there today and put in half an hour working the upper body. I’ll hurt tomorrow, and feel good about it.

What will this time look like twenty five years from now?

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