Those Halcyon Days?
Thursday, October 5, 2017
My wife and I dropped our son off at Durham University yesterday (1 October 2017) and said a poignant goodbye to him as he started his journey of becoming an independent young man.
The weeks before he left have been a time of ambivalence for me. So many mixed emotions that I have struggled to understand. It took me back to my own time at University; what was learnt and achieved and, more importantly, what was missed or lost. A chance to re-live who I was and what happened to me during those halcyon days.
Durham does Fresher’s first day incredibly well. You get a clear sense of its spirit of community and belonging; that you are being welcomed with open arms into something special. It looks to bridge the gap from School to University by offering a sense of family, unity and oneness. My son is, I believe, far better placed than I was to take this important step in his life. He may also be at a University that, at least from first impressions, is better structured to support and guide him. He starts his journey towards manhood on a better footing and, what appear to me, far more solid foundations.
I have a recurring dream of my time at University. It is always very similar and the theme is generally the same. Of being ill prepared; of not being ready; of being cast adrift. Carl Jung had an interesting view on recurring dreams. He compared them to gently peeling the layers of an onion; that each layer (or dream) slightly changed the perspective; so that, as they are stripped away, you come closer to the core and a deeper understanding of the experience. It is, he said, the healing (and balancing) process of the unconscious mind. Who am I to disagree?
So, what was at the core of my University experience? In short, I came as an outsider and I left as an outsider. Bristol barely touched my facade - just made it harder and more wilful. I surrounded myself with friends and acquaintances who were each, in their own way, outsiders. We were a band of black sheep; yearning for fulfilment but in many ways frustrated and alone. Lost souls, if you will, in need of help and guidance. Bristol did not do that well. I am not sure the law department was very interested in us or, indeed, we in them. We began to build an arid chasm between us which grew wider and deeper each day. It could have been very different.
Yes, we were trouble but there was not much malevolence there. We were simply young minds looking to get noticed but, when that did not happen (or at least in a positive way), we began to turn against the experience. We got stuck and it is hard to change that dynamic on your own. Much of who and what we were (and our more positive qualities) remained hidden and unseen. But, there was an opportunity for someone to step into the breach and begin to build a bridge. A space that could have been opened to explore ourselves and our increasingly disillusioned relationship with the University. A chance to delve a little deeper to find the fertile ground to be nurtured. But, it was not to be. Moments for transformation that, like us, were lost.
The thing about outsiders is that, at heart, we want to belong. We want to be part of something but just do not have the skills or maturity or knowledge or confidence to embrace that. It is far easier to rebel, reject and criticise; to continue on that journey of building a higher and more remote wall against the world and others.
For me, I continued my wall building project until my early 30's. Then, something happened and something changed. Three things came together that would start me on a new challenge and drive me towards a different, more unifying, path. It is a slow and twisting road to seek to change; to begin to re-connect by building foundations from which the wall (or maybe the war) against life can be taken down one day and one brick at a time. I decided to stop pouring energy into the outsider’s myth and focus on changing the script. I began to unwrap the onion in my search to find my own inner circle. That continuing search and journey is, like my firm, my life work in progress.
So, I am now left wondering about the next chapter of my recurring University dream and, in particular, what new layer is ready to emerge or beginning to be unwrapped?