I started 2021 with a midnight splash into a pool, a dive both literal and metaphorical: after the caged life of 2020, 2021 would be a year where I jumped in. I am not ready to pass final judgment on that goal, as certain limitations have not exactly disappeared, but in one way this year has matched the hype. I traveled more than I ever have, a steady stream of escapes from daily toil, and this past weekend, a final excursion outside of holiday family time took me to Tucson, Arizona, a new place with a lot of very familiar people.
I liked Tucson. I found it somewhat less sprawl-happy than its larger northern neighbor, Phoenix. The Presidio neighborhood, where I made my home for two days, had a dash of Spanish colonial charm, its homes quaint and bright and the landscapes one with the desert around it. I visited the weekend of the University of Arizona homecoming, which brings its large campus to life. Tucson’s food scene is good enough to earn a UNESCO designation, and the intensity of the Mexican influence gives it a genuine sense of a borderland, a mash-up that brings together the poverty and migration and logistical challenges with the immigrant grit and rich cultural creation and re-creation that takes place when two worlds collide.
My summons to Tucson came for my college friend Mike’s wedding with Lizette, a union of Irish- and Mexican-Americans that underscored this syncretism at every step. Mariachis in the cathedral, Irish dancers at the reception, and a couple of Georgetown Jesuits to tie the ribbon; a bagpiper to herd us to dinner and a Mexican ballad crooner at the post-boda party the following day. Now that I have seen his city I sense that I know Mike a bit better, and know why he helped found Georgetown’s Kino Border Initiative alternative spring break program that continues to run today. No matter how far he ventures he is a child of his hometown, a sentiment I know all too well.
I will here embarrass Mike by calling him one of the most impressive humans I know. I dole out such praise not only for his considerable worldly achievements from his presidency of the Georgetown student association to his Cambridge fellowship to his burgeoning education career, but also for his capacity for introspection and his ability to change his life for the better. We have both come a long way since we were two eager kids stumbling around Mexico City together for a semester, each restlessly seeking out callings that reflect who we have become every step of the way. For him, this weekend was a moment of triumph, a rush that ties those disparate threads of life into one, and while my own such moment remains somewhere further out beyond those cactus-studded hills, seeing another achieve it only fuels me.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on my objects of love, most notably the city that my time at Georgetown led me to conclude was the place I should be. After Duluth, however, comes that institution. An inordinate number of my formative moments came between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Georgetown was the apotheosis of my childhood striving, though its central role has never been an unambiguously positive one. Not long out of undergrad I penned a somewhat cynical account of my time there, and I when I read critical takes here and there on institutions like Georgetown, I find my share of truth. I have struggled, sometimes mightily, to weigh my place amid and against everything that Georgetown represents.
But anytime I am back on its campus or among its people, it is an object of ever-growing love. This Tucson weekend, spent primarily among friends I liked in college but have not kept up with religiously since graduation, was a liberation of sorts. In short order any anxieties over class or money or my strange post-graduation path melted into nothing. My story remains a curiosity to this audience, but it earns respect, and as we roll into our thirties, we are collectively easing into our own skin and into healthier relationships with the meritocratic pressure-cooker we have all inhabited to greater or lesser degrees. We all still share a hunger for knowledge and a thirst for rich lives, this belief that we really can have it all. It was also refreshing to be back in circles where not every 31-year-old is married, perhaps with a kid or two, that status a source of growing annoyance but not unnatural. These are in so many ways my people, and as I kill time in the plaza of the Tucson Presidio the morning after the wedding, I appreciate once again that I am who am, formed by my own peculiar jumble of circumstances just as Mike has been formed by Tucson, a new pride stirring within me.
Each morning since my return, I’ve begun my days with a brief reading from Plato’s Symposium, a search inspired by a speech from a member of Lizette’s bridal party. Perhaps Socrates and friends can be guides to my own loves; perhaps Tucson is only another meander on this strange path I tread. But with each dive I grow a bit more comfortable in the water, a bit more content to ride the waves, whether they come in a Caribbean pool or a November gale on the greatest of lakes. And between each one, may I continue to have symposia with Hoyas, my fellow travelers for life.