Monday, May 30, 2005

50th Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday I drove to Cleveland to help celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of some old friends. This morning, I am seated on the enclosed porch of their beautiful home, surrounded by plants, looking out over Lake Erie’s waters. Earlier, it rained and when I walked outside it was still chilly, but the sky is clearing, presaging a beautiful day, though perhaps a blustery one.

So many memories, personal and professional… Lake Erie means more to me than a casual observer. It was an early research site. With a graduate student, I drove around the entire periphery, visiting wastewater treatment plants. My computer simulation model, focusing on the problem of eutrophication, was one of the first attempts to dynamically simulate behavior of a large fresh water ecosystem. It became a principal analytical tool for the US Commission on Water Quality. Lake Erie is no longer referred to as a “dead lake” and I like to think that our model – my collaborator was a Dutch scientist – helped contribute to that transformation.

The lives of the anniversary celebrants and ours were closely intermingled when my first wife and I lived in Cleveland. For six years we lived cooperatively in many respects, co-owning a weekend/summer farm and sharing meals and many family activities throughout the year. When I moved to Washington our cooperative relationship ended gracefully and naturally. We sold the farm, divided the proceeds and proceeded along separate paths, which rarely intersected. We kept up via annual Christmas newsletters, but had no other contact for nearly twenty years.

I was struck by how little Cleveland had changed as I traced a once familiar route after nearly twenty years. The skyline was much as I remembered it. Familiar landmarks – for example a 1930s vintage power generating plant – remained. I was struck by the open spaces and unused land near the heart of the city, by the relatively uncongested traffic, by the slower pace of life in neighborhoods dotted with small houses resembling ones that my parents rented when I was a young child. It seemed so different from Washington’s energy and turmoil, but closer to the stable rural community in Western Virginia where my wife lives with her horses (and me, occasionally).

In some respects, Cleveland seems a metaphor for my friends’ lives. In the two decades since we parted I ended one marriage and begun another, held five different jobs at American University, transformed myself professionally from a futurist to a Sri Lankan scholar and developed close ties with the Island. My friends lived more stable lives remaining not only in Cleveland, but in the same waterfront house. They made their home more personal and welcoming – and they welcome friends and children to it. They nurtured their children through the tribulations of adolescence and early adulthood. They have sunk deep roots into their community, taking advantage of the rich resources of theater and art it provides. Now there are grandchildren to nurture and they are discovering they enjoy this Both are ‘retired’ but their lives remain busy and full, albeit with greater discretion.

It would be pointless to speculate on whether one of these very different life trajectories is, in some sense, “better.” But I do wonder, without regret, how my life might have unfolded had I chosen to remain in Cleveland rather than seizing the opportunity that American University provided.


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Blogger Tony said...

Enjoyed your observations on living in Cleveland - can identify with your experiences!

3:34 PM  

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