WOSA Reunion 2002 #1 - the first evening. Sent: Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 20:49 From: Gil
[This is the beginning of my report on the 2002 WOSA gathering in Abbotsford, BC. Since it is rather long and excruciatingly detailed compared to what others have written I have broken it up into several messages with subtitles so that you can pick and choose what you read and what you respond to. Gil]
The three previous WOSA reunions I've been to, plus a couple of class reunions, plus all the email chat and other contacts with classmates, convinced me I had the past and the present fully integrated and that I would experience this reunion with calm detachment. I should have known better. The welcoming session on Friday evening began with introduction of classes. The oldest person there (88?) was from the class of 32 and the youngest from the class of 92 (28?) and there was even one person who will graduate in the class of 2005! I thought about all the changes at Woodstock these lives encompassed. If Ruth Bierma Kraus ('32) was there during the 20s she would have seen boys being admitted, the hostel built, and the College when it was actually a college. There was still no upper school or Parker Hall and no Ridgewood and the student body was considerably smaller and mostly western. The missionary movement was in full bloom. Britain ruled India and seemed to be at the height of it's imperial power. Now the missionaries are gone. India has been independent for more than 50 years and the campus and the student body has grown and become mostly Asian. Abhrajit Bhattacharjee ('92) is the Sesquicentennial Campaign Director so maybe the one thing that hasn't changed is the connection many former students feel to their old school.
The evening continued with the singing of all the Woodstock songs. The first clue I had that maybe I wasn't going to be altogether detached was when we sang the line "Up in the high Himalayan mountains that's where I belong" and I heard a whole room full of people pronounce "Himalayan" the same way I do with three syllables instead of four and with the accent on the second syllable instead of the third. Then, when we got to Shadows the whole room simply stood up together as if everyone simultaneously heard the same silent internal command and I knew my cool reserve was a complete delusion.
WOSA Reunion 2002 #2 - Third culture kids. Sent - Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 21:02 From: Gil
Saturday morning three focus sessions were offered - Third Culture Kids, Changes in India within the World Community and Influence of Music Development at Woodstock. I chose to go to the TCK presentation which was given by Dorothy Riddle ('60). I had not seen her since 1959 and experienced again that sensation of having been fast forwarded through somebody's life where the face of the 16 year old girl I remember seemed to alternate with the face of the 59 year old woman. I have been to TCK presentations before but I thought this one the best. She talked about a study she did more than 20 years ago of Woodstock "mish kids" returning to America. Some of you may remember reading it in the Quad. Her random sample was taken from 67 Woodstock graduates drawn from the classes of 1935 to 1978 of whom 48 (72%) returned her survey . They had lived an average of 14.5 years in Asia as children. The survey fell naturally into two groups, those who felt fully "Americanized", both acculturated and rooted in the US (n=22) and those who felt acculturated but not really rooted in the US (n=26). The differences between the two groups are summarized in the table which I reproduce below:
I certainly identify much more with the non-rooted than with the rooted. I don't know how much any of this would apply to those who spent much less time overseas and/or who didn't come from the missionary community which provided a third cultural experience in addition to the Indian and US ones. Dorothy spoke of being an unrecognized "immigrant" who is expected to have cultural expertise in the "home" culture when we really have no home culture. She also quoted S.L. Werkman who said "an important part of the self remains foreign, hidden, split off, except when brought into consciousness through the mediation of someone who has shared a similar experience." This, of course, explains why my feelings get so stirred up at these reunions even when I think I'm past all that. --Gil
WOSA Reunion 2003 #3 - Conversations. Sent- Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 21:06 From: Gil
As always I enjoyed the time spent visiting with classmates. I am amazed at all the different paths we followed to get to Woodstock and all the different careers we've followed since. I was particularly struck by the fact that some have recently started new careers sometimes in fields completely unrelated to earlier endeavors. I also noticed how much I liked the spouses of classmates some of whom I was meeting for the second time. We've done well in choosing mates.
Perhaps because of this email list, I felt less compelled this time to spend every free moment with classmates and actually spent quite a bit of time with people from other classes. It was a pleasure, of course to see Penny and to talk to Jane Schroeter and Ellen Dobson also of the class of 60. Shiv Nanda of the class of 58 came all the way from Oman where he works as CFO for a company he briefly retired from before being called back when they started losing money. I talked to Doug Wilkens ('63) and Terry Connell ('58) with both of whom I've exchanged email. I was surprised when Bill Riddle ('64) greeted me like a long lost friend and invited me to have lunch with him. I remember him because he was already so tall when we graduated but didn't think he'd remember me at all. I saw Dick Smith's sister BJ ('50) for the first time in 52 years and was surprised at how casually we started talking as if we'd just seen each other yesterday.
I was also happy to see so many mish kids (8 or so including Alan Vichert) from the American Baptist Bengal Orissa mission ranging from Stan Brush ('42) to David Weidman ('75). I was born in the Brush bungalow and was about the same age when Stan graduated as David was when I graduated. I have been doing some research on the history of the mission field in connection with my writing and have uncovered the names of some of the first Bengal Orissa mish kids who grew up in the 1840s and 50s and there was a nice symmetry in seeing David Weidman who with his brother Tim ('80) were the last mish kids in our mission. It feels like I was part of a long chain that has now ended. Gil
WOSA Reunion 2003 #4 - Sunday service. Sent- Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 21:08 From: Gil
I was very impressed with the Sunday morning service. As Li has mentioned it included readings from the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Granth Sahib and the Koran as well as from the Bible. We sang hymns in Hindi, Sanskrit , Tamil and English. There was a time for honoring those who had died during the past year so both Vinode and Jerry's sister Carolyn were remembered. The responsive readings included thanks for all the riches of India that "nurtured us as children" and other lines that I really responded to like the following: "The peoples of India, like all peoples, like ourselves, are bound by narrow divisions, by regional identities, by language and tribal groups. These fetters destroy our personal life and the life of the nations to which we belong." The final hymn, "Here I am Lord", so invoked the spirit that I know motivated my parents that it brought tears to my eyes. It was ironic that the copyright for this hymn is held by the Oregon Catholic Press since my parents and probably other Protestant parents at Woodstock had some prejudices against Catholics. The service was distinctly Christian in character yet sufficiently ecumenical and inclusive to please even a heathen Unitarian Universalist like myself. I know there were a few people who found the service too liberal and went elsewhere but I found it a welcome contrast to the services of our youth which too often took the attitude that India had all the problems and missionaries had all the answers. Gil
WOSA Reunion 2003 #5 - Farewell night. Sent- Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 21:11 From: Gil
There were many other activities which I will not describe in detail. The Indian Consul General gave the keynote address. I bought a silver and amber yak tea set at the live auction. Classmates stopping by our house will be served yak tea in it provided you bring your own yak. Li has described the wonderful Indian khana (jelabis for desert!) and slide show on the Himalayas that Bob Fleming gave. He showed us people, plants and animals from areas ranging all the way from eastern Assam to the Hindu Kush in Pakistan. The range of his knowledge is quite astounding and extends to being able to cite the exact heights of obscure Himalayan peaks. Robert's concert which followed was also wonderful. Unfortunately, I missed his duet the next day with Bob Kaufman because it coincided with Alan and Pikku Vichert's brief two hour visit to the reunion. The farewell session Sunday night included stories by Ruskin Bond and the usual amusing tales of Woodstock but it also included one very tragic story. Gary Giesbrecht ('71) told about the deaths of two of his classmates on the train returning to Woodstock in 1970. They had climbed up on top of the train at night and were hit by an overhead beam on a bridge. It was clear from the detailed telling of the story (very painful to listen to) that the trauma of the experience was still very much with him more than 30 years later. I know from my own experience with sudden traumatic death that the repeated retelling of the events is a way to discharge the pain and I hope that Gary got some release from recounting the story, the first time he has done so to an audience who knows first hand what the train travel of the school parties was like.
Robert told me how much he dislikes endings - either you leave early and miss things or you stay and watch everything die. I share these feelings and lay awake that night thinking about other ways to experience the Monday morning departure. One idea was to imagine it was another Going Down Day, always a happy time, but that didn't seem to work for me. Then I tried to imagine a world where reunions went on and on without end. Suppose we were all to find ourselves living again at the College and the Hostel, spending days together in the classrooms. What would it be like? We were so unformed and undifferentiated as children and now we are rich with life experiences and fully developed personalities with strong opinions and so I imagine that at first it would be interesting getting to really know each other but in the end it would probably turn into Sartre's "No Exit" where hell is imagined as being trapped in a room with two other people for eternity. The interesting question to me is how long it would take to reach that state! --Gil
WOSA Reunion 2002 #6 - Final thoughts. Sent- Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 21:14 From: Gil
In the end we simply left and started our tour of British Columbia and I spent the first two days processing unfinished feelings and making the notes on which I based this report. It occurred to me then that these gatherings and email contacts are never complete because we never hear from the Woodstock people who have chosen not to have any contact with their former lives. I tried to fill in this gap by creating a taxonomy of the missing. There would be the disinterested, those for whom the Woodstock experience was long ago and of little significance and so they find no reason to revisit it. Then there are the disaffected of which I can imagine three subspecies - those whose experience at Woodstock was so negative they do not wish to have anything to do with it again; those who are angry because they still blame Woodstock for the problems they may have had after they left; and those who feel they have changed so much that they would now be rejected by those who still hold dear all the values of the 40s and 50s Woodstock community. Finally, there would be those who have chosen either consciously or unconsciously to never look back. For them the past is past and it is more important to live in the present and let sleeping dogs lie. I know some external stimulus can change this attitude. Shiv Nanda told me that when the class of 58 had a reunion in India he had looked up Syed Zaidi who had not responded to any overtures and got him to come to a dinner in Delhi and found that once roused Syed was delighted to be reconnected. I see myself in some of these groups. I was angry for a time and then for many years tried to put the past aside but I find that for me the past is also present and so I go to these reunions and happily participate in this email group. My next WOSA gathering will be the sesquicentennial one in Estes Park, Colorado in 2004 which will also be the 45th anniversary of our graduation. I'll see you all there. --Gil
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Webber Philip McEldowney