In the arts, we use the term, “rhythm” a lot. Visually, it tends to refer to repetition and patterns. In performing, it usually refers to a beat and tempo. Rhythm seems to have some kind of subliminal effect on us that goes back to the rituals of Stonehenge, or our Mother’s heartbeat, or whatever. Seeing rhythms can hypnotize us, and apparently even trigger seizures. It eludes our intellect, but not our understanding, one of those words that is hard to define in words, and yet we all seem to know what it is–like spirit, honor, or brotherhood.
The term is sometimes broadly used to identify a variety of things, especially people. A person’s rhythm not only refers to how they walk and talk, but also how they think and react to things; not only whether they’re laid back or hyper, but also references to their temperament, emotions, even how they think. After all, those things effect our pace and tensity, so its easy to see how the term, rhythm, might be used to define us as individuals. Used in this context, a synonym for rhythm might be, “persona.”
Okay, get to the point. I’m searching for a word that describes what it is we recognize in each other when we meet after a separation of five, ten or twenty years. We’re always a little jolted by how age and life have affected an old acquaintance, but once we move past that initial impression, we soon recognize, old familiar ground, the person’s rhythm. They have a similar reaction, and the situation soon becomes comfortable, even comforting, rewarding, nostalgic. It makes for a rewarding experience, and curiously, regardless of how much time has gone by, we seem to pick up where we left off. Our appearance, in fact our lives may change dramatically, but our rhythms tend to remain constant, and beyond the weight gain, and the receding hairline we soon recognize the comrade we remain familiar with through their rhythms.
Obviously, this recognition trait is not exclusive to fraternal bonding. Lifetime relationships can result in many scenarios. Yet, I’m convinced the Greek experience has potential for spawning something special that rises above other social experiences.
Its timing, for one thing. It occurs during our college years, the horizon to adulthood, when we experience a fertile combination of youthful energy and adult aspirations. College is a unique mesh of individual and collective activity. Individually, and somewhat self-centeredly, we focus on a vocation, responsibilities sustaining ourselves, adult interactions, making choices about our lives, how we want to live, and how were going to get there.
One choice we all made was to become a part of the Greek experience. Then we rather quickly, enter into a stint of collective activity. A group of us come together by choice and invitation, join a social fraternity rich in ideals, heritage, and a sense of being part of something generational.
In fact, since most of us are experiencing life away from our parents for the first time, it provides a half-way family experience, a family of young adult males. We call ourselves brothers. Live, sleep and eat under the same roof. We have our own house, and share some of the responsibility to maintain it. We take on a new identity, even a new name. Now, in addition to being Johnsons and Jones, we’re also Sigma Nu’s. It can be an intensive experience, that takes up a big part of our lives, and, as we band together to pursue common goals, interests and challenges, we continue our individual development as well, building self-worth, confidence and a variety of character skills.
Interestingly enough, just as children’s physical and creative growth depends on play and make believe, the college experience and particularly the greek experience largely depends on fun as its motivation also. Most of us went through college with enough post-adolescent enthusiasm for good times to gain a lot of positive social skills without the lonely drudgery that usually goes with other self-achievements. Recreation has its own unique potential for learning and growing.
And of course, an analogy of our social college and Greek years would be amiss if I didn’t make reference to the influences of the opposite sex during these formative years, and the learning experience they bring to the table. Motley Crue’s, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” is an anthem of their influence on us. We certainly were well aware of them before our college years, but being out of the confines of home introduces us to a whole new spectrum of experiences, that are emotionally challenging, with both rewards and frustrations along the way. Most of us eventually find our way into paired relationships, and this is a time in our lives when we learn a lot about how to be successful at it.
So, this college/Greek period in our lives is hugely influential in ways that almost defy description, and nowhere is it more of a perfect incubator for growth than in its ability to produce close, enduring relationships. During those days, our rhythms individually are settling into permanence, and collectively, as a band of brothers under the same fraternal flag, sharing the same causes and cravings for the richness of life, we grow innately familiar with the rhythms of the others. We bond, and from then on, no matter how we’re tested by time, no matter how much water goes under the bridge, we still recognize those rhythms, and thus, know that person for life.
Then, something happens that seems, at least to me, to defy all sensibility. We abandon all the structure and purpose we once embraced to nurture and edify these valuable interrelationships, and retire the experience. While still in our early twenties, as if its something we’re expected to out grow, we take up a self-perception of being, “beyond all of that.” Of course, a few small pockets of brothers continue to stay in touch, and get together on occasion, but there is little effort made to preserve our brotherhood as a family for close relationships. We’re grownups now. I certainly recognize what’s essential about maturity, and yes, we do need to take up an air of maturity if we’re ever going to get there, but relationships are not child’s play. They, more than anything, exemplify what life’s all about. We’ve laid the ground work to continue our maturity together. Our fraternal experience is conceived largely to benefit our growth. So why, in the midst of these vulnerable, uncertain stages in life, do we break away from this social foundation that has served us so well as individuals, and ultimately made us brothers.
Meanwhile, we seldom ever abandon our birthright families. The learning, nurturing process promoted while growing up serves largely to prepare us to continue the family experience, as generally we relegate toward becoming providers and patriarchs. In our fraternal family however, for all intents and purposes, we become the past.
Why? I don’t think there are many answers for that. The fraternity is not structured that way. Nationally, It does categorize us as alumni, but we’re Sigma Nu’s for life, and the National does make an effort to keep us in the loop. If anything, our fraternity is designed to embrace active participation from its ranks of college graduates. Apparently, we assume our role as retired, simply because of a mindset that has been handed down. Fraternities are something you do in college.
To me, a much more significant question is, “why not?” Why not change our concept and self-image of who we are as college graduated Sigma Nu’s?
“Eta Rho For Life” is a proposal to do just that. We have a preliminary creed written that summarizes at least for this stage the, “why, and why not:”
Our Brotherhood was born during our college years,
but its essence as a life experience enriched with
life long relationships becomes more evident as we
grow older. We, the life members of Eta Rho,
should embrace this truth and cultivate its potential by…
…enhancing foremost the social and intellectual values
inherent to Brotherhood beyond the college experience,
thus focusing on its lifetime virtues for all ages, and…
…recognizing the vested interest we have in selecting,
nurturing, and inspiring the young men that enter our
Brotherhood during the formative years of college, thus
securing the integrity and vitality of Eta Rho for future
First, the only thing we have to change is our minds. It doesn’t require any real change in our structure, or change from our pockets. It requires only the amount of time you want to put into it. secondly, the potential rewards are challenged only by the limits of our imagination. There is so much we can do to enrich our lives, our families, Western’s community, and the futures of Eta Rho for generations to come. Think of what a gift we provide our graduates when we welcome them not into retirement, but into a beginning.
Finally, so many of the struggles and setbacks we have endured over our 45 years of existence will be directly addressed simply by embracing this new self-concept. Most of you are aware that our history has been on a roller coaster course through its entire existence, and that series of highs and lows has been directly influenced by the condition and stability of the active chapter. If, however, we are able to effectively transcend to this new self-image for all Eta Rhoians, and devote a part of ourselves to seeing that it achieve its lifetime potential, then think of the vested interest we have in filling our college ranks with young men of highest potential, and then nurturing and providing support to them during their college and early career years. Then, think how our older generations benefit from this life experience as these young men mature and take over as the leaders we have nurtured them to be. It is a spiral with the potential for substantial positive growth, a chance to make a difference that counts, and all we have to do is change our self-image.
We shouldn’t retire our alumni, we should retire the term. Western has provided us with an education and a diploma, and sent us on our way. We complete all we can and need in college and we then graduate from student to alumni. As Sigma Nu’s, we each spent four years, give or take, participating in a well conceived, intensive experience of growing and maintaining a brotherhood of coveted relationships. Relationships are vital, and the longer they thrive, the greater the rewards. We gain nothing, and risk something precious when we relegate them to something that happened in the past. Our rhythms have served us well, at least to provide us nostalgic reveries of what we had and evidence that it still lives on. Still, what our rhythms do best is give us assurance of what we can achieve, and what we have to gain by changing our image of ourselves. Let the active chapter be our pledge class. Let us be the actives, and let our fraternal brotherhood thrive for a lifetime.
I’ve been thinking this over for several years, and have a host of philosophical thoughts and ideas to support the potential of this concept. I plan to continue writing about this in segments, each with a topic, (shorter, much shorter, I promise) hopefully to encourage the thoughts and dialogue of other brothers, the more the merrier. I hope to inspire enthusiasm, while brothers like Rick Johnson, our current (alumni) president, and some others, including Paul Calico, and Jeff Ralph who have already shown a keen interest in this, I hope will put together a plan and directive to bring it to fruition, and yes I think you, the reader, would be an excellent addition to the team. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about it, share your thoughts, and spread the word.
I’ll add only one final point. For apparent reasons that baffle me more than anything, we may be pursuing a concept that has never really seen light before. In so many ways, this reorganizing of our roles seems like a no brainer, as if it was always the intention, but maybe not. Still, that is no reason to shy away from its possibilities. We don’t need some prior template or directive handed down to follow and insure our success. We have the wisdom, vision and determination necessary right within our ranks. We have the talent, and most importantly, we have Eta Rho, where it has come from and been, and where it is at this very moment in time. Its ripe for this cause. Let us set the precedent for other chapters and even other Greek organizations to follow. There is no brotherhood, or menagerie of rhythms that could achieve this as well as ourselves.