Benjamin Pratt: Remembrance of things past through a pilgrimage with old friends

With two of my fraternity brothers: Jim on the left and Bob on the right.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The great memoirist Marcel Proust described the mysterious power of human memory as if past souls were waiting for us almost everywhere, hoping we might pass by and stir them to new life. That might happen during a walk in the woods, Proust said, or by revisiting earlier elements of our lives, perhaps as simple as a cup of hot tea and little piece of cake. Such a little taste, one day, is what unlocked Proust’s more-than-4,000-page memoir, Remembrance of Things Past. This week, our online magazine is sharing a Cover Story with Tina Welling, who has developed life-changing “journaling” workshops with inmates. And we are sharing Howard Brown’s story of honoring a friend who died last year by planting trees. The third part of this triptych of memory is Benjamin Pratt’s story about a pilgrimage with friends back to the campus where they met.


A Reunion: Memories, Bitter and Sweet



“That’s our ol’ ‘necking’ tree—right there in the shade of the chapel. We kissed for the first time while I was holding her close and leaning against that tree. Wow, 62 years ago—no wonder the tree is much bigger than I remembered. I still keep pinching myself when I realize how fortunate I am to have found Judith and been married for 59 years. Amazing, really amazing.”

This is where I serenaded my wife-to-be after we became “pinned.” Judith stood at the windows above the door, backed by her sorority as I was backed by my fraternity brothers.

I mumbled this to my friends at our college reunion.

Recently, we made a collective pilgrimage deep into our memories, a journey that turned out to be revelatory, tender, tough and filled with gratitude. I returned to my college with two of my closest friends who also had graduated 60 years ago. Bob drove to northern Virginia from Connecticut. Then, the three of us drove to western Pennsylvania. Bob, Jim and I were suite mates one college year. Then, I became a Resident Advisor, living with freshmen in their dorm, and that separated our threesome.

Jim and I revisited the spot where we had met 64 years ago. Our parents had just dropped us off: two disconnected, lonely, uncertain guys who were entering a new and very unfamiliar world. I had seen him standing alone, looking quite forlorn, so I walked over and said hello! We both remembered the exact spot on that huge quad. Now, here we are again, and still friends. A very sweet memory.

We all had joined one of the local fraternities, and now it was observing its 100th anniversary. We octogenarians found our time together to be delightful, eye-opening and tinged with some sad realities. I was jolted to realize how quickly I remembered names but could not conjure up that person because of facial and body changes. In addition to learning of friends’ deaths, we heard that the one man who had been keeping all of us connected had recently been sidelined by a stroke. Harry had eagerly looked forward to this reunion, only to be prevented from attending by his debilitating health. The ravages of time were visible in our bodies and faces. Yet this was not so with the ol’ campus. Some buildings were gone, replaced by attractive, state-of-the-art structures conducive to learning. It looked wonderful!

I played four years of college basketball. The stadium looks just as I remembered it except that the floor was so highly polished I could have skated on it. That stadium brought back many memories. For some unknown reason there were no upperclassmen on the team during my first year. When Westminster College came to our court with three starters who had played while in the Marines, they had us 18-0 before we scored. Not a good night! I remembered the night I held Slippery Rock’s lead scorer to eight points by constantly blocking his fade away jump shots! That was long before I wore contacts—and my glasses were smashed into my eye. And, oh yes, the painful Christmas practices. Everyone else was on break for the season, but we were there practicing, practicing, practicing—preparing for a holiday tournament.

I am so grateful for these remembered opportunities, experiences, and adventures, especially from my college years, that were enriched by dear friends and the wonderful woman, Judith, who became my partner in life. I returned to the spot where I first met her, as well as the patio from which I serenaded her in front of her dorm. I shall never forget the first time I saw her and felt an electric shock go through my body! I knew something exceptional was happening.

So many memories of the past!

While a college student, I felt the calling to enter the ministry. My decision to commit to the ministry allowed me to borrow money from the church to be paid back by years of service. Also, during this time, I became a voracious reader—a lover of books and stories.

These memories and others help me know who I am.



Care to read more?

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Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]



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