Serendipitous Reunions on Parents Weekend

Evan Bille-

There were a lot of hugs and stories that I told as we walked around. I introduced my mom to friends, co-workers, and generally incredible people. By the end of it all, saying goodbye was tough. It was a typical parents weekend, but my mom and I weren’t on campus that afternoon–we were at a homeless shelter. This summer, I worked at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte full time interviewing men coming into the shelter and listening to their stories. When I came back to Davidson, it seemed like so much had changed, but those stories stayed with me. Parents weekend was the first time I went back to the shelter since the summer.

I said goodbye to my mom on Sunday afternoon before her flight. Saying goodbye then was tough too. This past weekend, my mom got a personal tour of the shelter. She saw where I worked every day, where I ate lunch in the cafeteria. She saw the men who worked and ate with me.

I think she wanted to visit the shelter in the first place because she had seen the effect those men had on me. In a sense, she had seen the shelter before the visit through my random stories and memories. When she visited the shelter herself, I think the image she had of it changed. We are constantly changing in this way–a shifting balance of our experiences in the context of the world around us. This change is a constant process, so we are progressively different from any previous point. I think that is what makes “goodbye” hard, especially on Parents Weekend.

Fall Convocation is a similar “goodbye.” Fall Convocation, like Parents Weekend overall, is a beginning of understanding change.

For first-year students, Parents Weekend begins to show the change and growth that college brings. For seniors, wearing their caps and gowns for the first time at Convocation, there is collective acknowledgment that more change is coming in their lives. The next time we as students get to step back and reflect on that change may be Thanksgiving or Winter Break, but for seniors, that next opportunity in the Davidson community might be a reunion years from now.

But a reunion at a shelter is more complicated. As I showed my mom around the shelter, I didn’t know what to expect. Part of me wanted to see the guys I had become so close to over the summer, but it doesn’t feel right to wish that someone is still in a homeless shelter, waiting for you.

You hope that those men who have struggled for so long have made it out. That makes for a hopeful, but lonely reunion. The shelter is an inherently temporary space: you can see the changes in the building itself over time.

In just the few short months I’ve been gone, many of the offices moved to different areas in the building. Even the staff, a constancy in the shelter, experienced significant turnover since my last day of work in August. Change was tangible in the shelter, and I hoped I wasn’t the only one who felt it.

As I walked into shelter, I saw a man I worked with every afternoon during the summer. When I worked the front desk, I had a chore list, and every afternoon this man would not only do his own duty–usually mopping the floors–but he would also help out with any chores that were left undone. He was actually once told not to do extra chores by a shelter employee–but he refused.

His power was (and still is) in his ethic. He never stopped working. That ethic eventually paid off: he got an apartment in September. So why was he at the shelter? I was shocked.

It turned out that the director of the shelter told him about my visit, and he waited for me in the same shelter he worked so hard to leave. He paid for a bus pass, something that is not to be taken for granted in Charlotte, to come back to see me. The sacrifices he made for that reunion are unimaginable to me, but for him, they were worth the cost.

I’m not advocating for people to take on huge costs for reunions. I’m not sure where I’ll be for the next Parent’s Weekend, Thanksgiving, or Convocation, or if I’ll even go to my five-year reunion. I’m also not sure when I’ll go back to the shelter.

What I do know is that the place doesn’t matter. Relationship transcends reunion: I may never see that man again, but I will remember him and the sacrifices he made. That will be one of the stories that stays with me, and that is what I hold onto. In the words of Frederick Buechner: “When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are.”

Evan Bille ’20 is an undeclared student from Skaneateles, New York.  Contact him at evbille@davidson.edu.