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The Golden Thread

by Chris Hall '82 #870

In my junior year at Pomona, a Scripps friend pressed a book into my hand and insisted that I read it, intimating that it would shed light on her inscrutable personality. "It's about this family driven mad by Catholicism," she explained. The book was Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I plowed through with delight (I hasten to add that this was a full year before the bloated miniseries would arrive to mitigate my enjoyment). Of course, it dealt with much more than simply the Flyte family's peculiar struggles with Faith, as those who have read it (and/or watched it very soberly portrayed by the likes of Jeremy Irons and company) will attest.

But in pondering the nature of Nu Alpha Phi lately, a passage from the book--one that specifically treats upon the workings of a religious upbringing--comes to mind. I do not have the benefit of the book open before me, so I must paraphrase here, and beg the forgiveness of those with better memories than mine (or a copy of the text). In the passage, the speaker--is it Mr. Samgrass, the obsequious Oxford dean and cleric?--is describing the means by which faith, in this case the Roman Catholic faith, will work its inexorable will on the fugitive Sebastian Flyte, who has slipped from his protective grasp while on a tour of the Continent. Faith, says Mr. Samgrass, is like an invisible thread that binds Sebastian to his family. The thread may be played out endlessly; though Sebastian may range to the ends of the earth, he can be brought home with just a simple jerk of the finger. It is a beautifully constructed image, and I do not do it justice by my recounting.

Editor-in-Chief with Whitman in pack.

And although it describes the rather deleterious effects of a specific religious persuasion (in both senses of the word) on a particular fictional individual, I feel in a more benign light the image can apply to the workings of our fraternity after one leaves school and enters the world. There is a period of years immediately following graduation during which Nu Alpha Phi is as far from one's mind as anything can be. Then, after five years or more, as old alliances begin to weaken, as friends move to other cities and one becomes more immersed in life's work, the golden thread begins gently to tighten, and shortly thereafter, one feels the tug. That, at least, is the only way I can explain why I am sitting here now, 400 miles and 15 years away from my college experience, devoting time and effort to the Oak Leaf. And I imagine this is why so many of you feel compelled to write in, to attend events, to continue to care.

Oh, there are many who slip the loop entirely and are never heard from again. But for those who are bound by that golden thread (and it binds us all, one to another) the connection grows stronger and more voluntary with each passing year. I offer these observations on the occasion of the recent discovery, which may be self-evident to many of you but struck me with the force of a revelation, which is that the signature experience of our fraternity is really takes place after one leaves school.

Being an active as an undergrad has its precious and indelible adventures to be sure, and if that were all there was to being a Nu Alph, the experience would still be highly desirable. But there is so much more to it than that, and being an active is only the first stage in the preparation and the grounding for becoming a member of Nu Alpha Phi in the larger sense. All of the principles stated in the fraternity pledge and the initiation ceremony dealing with brotherhood and friendship were truly borne out for me only after I had been out of school for several years. I suppose that only as an alumnus (or alumna) can one truly comprehend and participate in the community we have built, and appreciate its rarity and anomaly in the post-graduate world. Entropy is the fate of most collegiate associations, a gradual slowing down and fading out as one gains distance from the original events. But for us in Nu Alpha Phi, the reverse seems to be true.

I see this happening today, in the recent graduates who land on our Website and fire off an e-mail of encouragement; I see it in those formerly listless actives who become increasingly interested and enthusiastic alums, and I see it, naturally, in the older brothers who have kept the faith and maintained ever-stronger connections over 75 years of fraternity life.

As it turned out, Evelyn Waugh's book didn't illuminate the inscrutable soul of my Scripps friend for me as she had hoped, but I found it entertaining nonetheless. And years later it has provided me with a fit metaphor for the sense of willing obligation and increased commitment to the fraternity that binds so many of us across the chasms of circumstance, distance, and years. It is my continued hope that the golden thread falls around the shoulders of everyone who takes the fraternity pledge, that he or she may feel that subtle tug one day, and live within the community that is the embodiment of those principles.

- Chris Hall '82 #870

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