We are walking to synagogue down a quiet, tree-lined street in Palo Alto. This bustling, tech-industry exurb is just a sleepy college town on a Saturday morning in early August. He reaches for my hand and gives it a quick squeeze, our “I love you” signal from our long-ago courtship days. He’s quiet, like Palo Alto on a Saturday morning, but also sturdy and strong with wide, protective arms, like the palm trees that line the entrance to campus.
Months ago, I began planning this trip to celebrate our 25 years together, hoping that it would connect us to our more carefree twenty-something selves. I painted the scene for our three children: we’ll go to dinner at the restaurant where we had our first date; walk around campus; play Scrabble on Shabbat afternoon; have breakfast at Hobee’s on Sunday morning. They agreed it was a romantic gesture worth pursuing, despite that the trip inconviently coincided with their return to school.
Returning to a place where you once lived evokes a particular type of nostalgic disappointment; the reality is never the same as how you picture the place in your mind’s eye. Although we knew Palo Alto had changed–people had moved on, time had moved forward–our imaginations created a different reality, one that existed only in a daydream. In that Palo Alto we’re young and carefree, with no worries about children or mortgage payments, and certainly no thought to professional obligations. This fantasy is built on the firm foundation of denial; two decades of raising children has forever eradicated “carefree” from our shared vocabulary.
Still, the reality of being away from home, of leaving grandma in charge and stealing away to the place we met, enables us to reconnect with our younger, more carefree versions of ourselves. After 25 years, the energy of new love can be recaptured and the commitment of steadfast love can be renewed. Nostalgia cedes to a transformed reality in a place–in a relationship–that has successfully weathered change.