Today, exactly 25 years after my arriving in Boston to begin my adult life, I made my annual pilgrimage to Frank Speare Hall, a dorm of Northeastern University on Huntington Avenue, where it all began.
Except this year Frank Speare Hall is empty. Has been empty, for more than two months. Northeastern University is empty. Down the street, the Museum of Fine Arts is empty. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is empty. Simmons College, where I took my master’s degree, is empty. Fenway Park, across the way, is empty.
I did not expect any of that, back on that May day in 1995.
Except I didn’t expect much. When I arrived here, I had no plans. No job. No career trajectory. I had a dream of becoming a rich and famous writer, but I had no idea what that consisted of or how to go about doing it, so really I didn’t even have that.
If you had told me, on 5/28/1995, that all would be empty in 25 years years, I would not have been quite surprised. Not pleased, certainly. But it would have matched the darker suspicions I had always harbored about the American future. I was open to a wide range of possibility. If you expect what you don’t expect, you’ll never be taken by surprise.
Not having a plan, the last 25 years have not produced much in way of accomplishment for me, not as the world sees it. I am a part-time church office manager. I have no awards or titles. Could things have turned out differently?
I could have gone into academia. A lot of people would say that was my natural bent. But I’ve seen academia chew up and vomit forth better folks than me—and that was before the effect of Covid-19 on the Higher Education sector.
Dad always thought I should join the Foreign Service. That would have been a neat experience. But when I hit the crux point of my career, the point where you go big or fade, I would have collided with the Trump State Department, like a swallow hitting a skyscraper window pane.
Are these sour grapes? Am I finding rationalization to dismiss my failures? Of course. Yet look at the emptiness around Huntington Avenue. Many people who pursued their dreams, pursued them successfully, found the results crushed in recent months. We live in wreckage. Vanity, all is vanity, a chasing after the wind, says the Teacher.
What, decades into my adulthood, I am trying to do is understand the balance between dreams and disasters. What is the point of any human action in a universe 13.8 billion years old and on a planet 4.5 billion years old? How do we find a course in life when society is burning with evil and shivering in uncertainty? Where do we make our dwelling aboard this tiny island, physical and chronological, that alone is amenable to human life?
I’m actually not trying to answer those questions. I’m a little skeptical than any person can answer them for any other person. But I’m trying to refine them. I’m trying to formulate the Question at a high caliber.
In the meantime, I have the treasures that 25 years have brought me, the people I have known, the joys of being with them. I am grateful.
Frank Speare Hall is empty.
Go ahead — eat your food and be happy; drink your wine and be cheerful. It’s all right with God. Always look happy and cheerful. Enjoy life with the woman you love, as long as you live the useless life that God has given you in this world. Enjoy every useless day of it, because that is all you will get for all your trouble.
-Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 (Good News translation)