Alumnus, English Professor and Poet Reflects on His 25th Reunion

Philip Metres '92 ponders the power of memories, inspired by his visit to campus
October 5th, 2017 by 

Metres with his fellow class of 1992 alumni after the Fun Run at 2017 Reunion
Metres with his fellow class of 1992 alumni after the Fun Run at 2017 Reunion: Dan Seltzer, Phil Metres, Courtney Finn Moore, Maureen Kloempken Oates, Sue Killalea, Patty Barry, and Pete Dankert. Photo courtesy Philip Metres

It’s always a dangerous proposition to tell someone a dream you’ve had; they always turn out to be much more interesting to the dreamer than the listener. But bear with me. For years, I’ve had a dream that I was back at Holy Cross, somewhere above the Hart Center, where the woods and practice fields used to meet, and at night the scarred city would spread out more beautifully than you would have thought, the lights glimmering. In this dream, as I was walking around, I came upon paths and roads and then whole buildings that I’d never seen before. I thought that it was so strange, since I’d lived there for four years and never noticed those places. It was a wonder, to think, all around me, there were places I’d never noticed, and that suddenly, I could see them. The Irish poet W.B. Yeats once wrote that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

What a prescient dream it seemed, once I saw, quite literally, how many new paths and roads and buildings have grown up around the edges of our College on The Hill. I wasn’t the only one astonished at how much had changed in the 25 years since we lived here.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think my dream was a prophecy. I think it was a metaphor for our living memory — how, each time we go back to the past in our minds, we scrabble about, searching for something, trying to find some new way of understanding our life, some new path amid the familiar geography of what’s happened to us.

Coming back to campus meant revisiting not only the past, but who I’d been then — a serious, socially awkward young man trying to figure out what I was meant to do with my life. Probably I wasn’t the only one who happened upon some little nook on campus, and was struck by a sudden memory of the past, something that I’d forgotten until just that moment. How, when I walked into Fenwick/O’Kane, I smelled that familiar scent of wood and closeness, and I almost shivered with delight. I was 20 years old again, preparing myself for another daunting meeting with Professor Cording, whose standards for a poem were far higher than my pen could propel me.

It’s true, every time we go back to the past, and the places of our past, we have the chance to find something new. It just so happens that two dear friends, Dan Seltzer ’92 and Kerry Grillo ’92, sparked a new relationship at the five-year reunion, and now are happily married with three great kids. I find, each reunion, I not only rekindle old friendships, but also make a few new ones. While we all had our favored groups, as the years wear on, whatever divided us seems to thin, and we become most ourselves, and what we shared — those four years at our College on The Hill — grows more bright.

Now I’d be lying if I didn’t have my share of rough moments at the Cross, days and even months where I was deeply unhappy. (I actually wrote a whole essay on my mistaken memory about what I’d remembered as a transcendent senior year. I was quickly disabused of that rose-colored view when I read my journals from that time, and found myself nearly drowning in self-doubt and anxiety about the future. It reminds me that the “Easy Street” that was most important to me at Holy Cross was not the kickoff party, but the song of the same name by Soul Asylum about a friend who helps another friend in a very dark moment.)

But what emerges quite powerfully now, as I look back, is the care and mentorship of beloved professors, the companionship of dear friends and the sparks and embers of love. (After all, I married “up” — Amy Breau, class of 1991!)

This time, I had so many chance hellos and full-blown philosophical conversations with so many different people — old friends and completely unknown classmates — that I literally couldn’t remember them all, when I took to writing about it this morning. I prized them equally — catching up with people who knew me and know me beyond words, and connecting with people who I doubt I ever really talked to at all, years ago when we were classmates. On that last point, I could be mistaken — memory, it turns out, has an overactive delete key.

Right before the reunion, I had lunch with Bob Cording, whose mentorship typifies what Holy Cross meant for me. Professor Cording was notoriously hard to please. He had exacting standards, and gave few A’s. Some students, understandably, avoided him, or wound up crying in his office. But during senior year, every week, I’d come into his office and bring him a terrible poem, and he’d patiently walk me through how it could be better. His secret, and perhaps the great secret of the education that I got, was that he loved not only his subject, but also his students. Love was at the center of what he did. I felt that acceptance strongly, at a time when I felt very little self-acceptance, and almost no inner peace.

Seeing Bob again was like seeing a father that I’d forgotten I had. Talking with him was like remembering who I was then, and measuring the distance to where I am now. When we parted, I told him that he was a blessing to me. He said he felt the same.

That’s Holy Cross to me.


Written by Philip Metres ’92 for the Fall 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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