Christmas break during our first year of college: we were in your basement, listening to Purity Ring and telling stories.
Two of us were going to Calvin, but you were going to North Park in Chicago. You told us about the odd parallels between Calvin’s “Dutchness” and North Park’s “Swedishness.” All the buildings that would be dedicated to “Spoelhofs” or “VanNoords” were instead dedicated to “Nyvalls” and “Axelsons.”
While we were talking, your mom shouted from upstairs that we should go outside—there were northern lights showing. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen the northern lights. I’d never even heard of them being visible this far south.
It was cold out, in the way that makes your whole body clench. Although all three of us were Michigan winter veterans, it would be a lie to say that any of us were eager to head outside. But we were compelled. As we stumbled out into the dark, there wasn’t much snow on the ground, but the frost had left everything crusted with ice.
We walked out onto the corner around your block. Looking over the field outside the elementary school there, we had a clear view of the sky. The clouds weren’t Michigan’s typical grey blanket. They were hazy. Thick, but with gashes torn open to let the moon and stars in.
The lights weren’t the spectacle we expected. I was envisioning the surreal green arcs that I’d seen in movies since I was a kid. Instead, the sky basically looked as though dim spotlights or very faint flashes of lightning were sliding around the clouds.
But we stood there, silently watching together.
I don’t know why that night keeps coming back to my mind when we talk on the phone, or when I visit you in Chicago.
In that moment, we’d passed from the doldrums of high school into the entrancing promised land of college. That first semester had worn on us, but for the first time in a long time, we were feeling the same hope we’d felt four years before.
We were so apprehensive, so excited for what would come next in our lives. So ready for everything to make sense and for us to find the vocations we’d been told we’d find.
I miss you guys. I often drive past our haunts, restaurants that have already gone out of business or changed location, and I think about Friday nights where we would drive around the city and listen to albums like we were the only people who understood them.
That night, watching the lights, is perhaps something only I will remember with such significance. To me, it feels like the end of something that we’ll never really get back. The end of some innocent hope that we’d rallied around.
But whatever the memory means, I treasure it.