Running into an old friend and her daughterLast week was a whirlwind—and not just because snow continued to blow through Philadelphia. I hopped on a plane Wednesday (a day early because of the forecast) and headed down to Durham, North Carolina, where I delivered three talks in three days, visited with several old friends, met a bunch of new interesting folks, and didn’t get quite enough sleep. Back home now and way behind on email, I’m reflecting on the wonder and longevity of human connections.

Even just in publicizing the talk I gave at The Regulator Bookshop, I rekindled connections with three old college professors, two of whom took me out to a wonderful French dinner while I was in Durham. Thirty years after I was a college freshman, it was heartening to know I was remembered by my freshman Arabic teacher and to reminisce about how her enthusiasm for her subject had fueling my interest in other cultures. I was touched that my senior thesis advisor, who couldn’t make my talk, bought a copy of my book and left it at the bookstore to be signed. It reminded me that one of the great things about Duke University is that excellent teachers are really accessible to undergraduates. (I doubt if any of my teachers from graduate school—save the one who visited my hut in Botswana—would remember me, let alone go out of their way to reconnect.)

I also got to see four college classmates, only one of whom I was really close to at the time, but all of whom I liked very much. It’s fun to get to know people now whom I previously knew primarily as the friends of a friend. Our conversation ranged from memories to current lives, sometimes helping me make connections I hadn’t before. For example, one friend heard me cough and remembered how I had coughed for months after I got mono my sophomore year, something I don’t remember at all but which I find interesting considering how I struggle with a persistent cough today. (Friends from my meeting may be alarmed to realize I’ve been coughing like this for at least 29 years and didn’t realize it!) These conversations somehow tie the person I was and person I am into more of a coherent whole.

I also had coffee with a writer I met in Philadelphia when she was promoting her book. We discovered many things in common in our own writing and spiritual journeys. As we were parting, we discovered that we were in graduate school at the same place and at the same time, so that in addition to the Philadelphia mother/writer/friend who had introduced us, we knew a whole host of people in common, including the author whose book I reviewed in my last post and a man I had lost touch with who is now living in Durham. Though I didn’t get to see him, we had a nice phone chat in which we discovered a common interest in spirituality, something we never discussed when we dated over twenty years ago.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I got to visit Durham Friends Meeting—the first meeting I ever worshipped in after graduating from a Quaker high school. I was a college freshman, newly in spiritual crisis after leaving the Catholic church on Ash Wednesday, and I felt the urge to go to meeting at the end of a backpacking trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. For some reason, several fellow hikers decided to come with me, and I remember having the sense of having invaded this small, but warm community. How funny to be back Saturday night, in Durham Meeting’s beautiful new building, leading a workshop on discernment that was also attended by the writer from my graduate school and the college friend I was staying with, who said she had always been curious about Quakers.

Coming home I’m trying to weave all these threads together somehow and appreciating the richness of connections in my life.