To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 4: Winter Warmth

The snow didn't stick, of course. Afterwards, the day after the snowfall, the weather warmed up and stayed that way for a couple of days, but then a front moved in and we had a serious ice storm last night--sleet coming down and freezing to everything for hours on end. It's hard to get around campus now, because the roads are slick, and we lost a couple of trees up in the woods, plus some branches off a few of the sugar maples, but everything is so pretty. The sun is out now, and all the twigs on all the trees and bushes are completely circled in ice, just surrounded, and all of it is sparkling and glowing and the ice on the ground is white and crunchy like some kind of sugary snow. I expect it will start melting soon, but for now it's beautiful.

It's interesting to think that because we live here on campus the way we do, we're free to enjoy it. I understand that a lot of people in the outside world are without power, a really dangerous thing for those who heat and cook with electricity--I know some of our neighbors are not on the town water system and they depend on electricity to pump their well water. Some of the roads are closed, and probably the others should be. A lot of folks can't go to work, kids can't go to school, it's a big mess and a serious hardship. Except for us. We generate our own electricity, and even if we lost that I'm not sure we'd care, because we use so little. Our wood and our food is close at hand. We don't have anywhere we need to go.

I'm thinking of the others, though. Not so much my parents, which is embarrassing--I've called them and they're fine, and that's basically all I need to know--but Allen, Kit, Joy, and Sarah are not on campus right now. They're out in the world where ice storms are a serious inconvenience or worse, and they're stuck out there, because of the roads. They couldn't come to campus if they wanted to. It's not that I'm worried, exactly--I'm sure they're alright--it's that it seems unfair they should have to cope with a difficulty that is so obviously unnecessary. The way we live here--self-sufficient, but connected to the world when we want to be--seems so self-evidently better.

Rick had his last "shelter night" last night, meaning that Charlie made him spend the night outside with nothing except what he could gather and what he might normally have with him for a walk in the woods. I say Charlie "made" him, but of course, Rick could have refused. Charlie wouldn't want anyone to do anything just because he said so. But of course Rick did not refuse.

Rick and I are not in the same dorm--he is in Snake--so I didn't know about this until this morning when Rick walked into the Great Hall around breakfast time, coming in from outdoors and missing his oilskin poncho.

"I used my poncho to waterproof my shelter," he explained. "It froze solid overnight and I couldn't get it free this morning. I'll get it when the ice melts." He set about wolfing down scrambled eggs, re-stoking the fire within himself. Staying warm takes a lot of calories.

"Did you get any sleep?" I asked him. I know he often sleeps poorly when the weather is bad, and I couldn't imagine him lying down inside a shelter small enough for a poncho to cover.

"None at all," he answered. And indeed, almost as soon as he was done eating, his head started to bob, the way people's heads do when they fall asleep sitting up, jerk awake, and sleep again.

"Why don't you go to bed?" I suggested. I meant that he should go to his own room--he still has one in his dorm, even though he hasn't spent much time in it this year. But he responded by lying down on the floor where he was, on a sheepskin in front of the fire. Within a minute he was obviously asleep. I took a blanket from the couch and covered him up.

I was trying to figure out whether to leave him there--I thought maybe he might get stepped on if he were alone, he kind of looked like a pile of blankets with a pair of feet sticking out the end--when Greg's cat, who usually ignores everybody except Greg, ambled over. The animal sniffed Rick's hair and appeared to consider--his tail-tip twitched. Then, making up his mind, the cat climbed up over Rick and settled on his hip. Rick grunted and rolled over onto his belly, but the cat rode him like a rolling log, resettled on the man's rear, kneaded with his claws for a minute, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I just sat there, completely astounded.

Aidan walked up to me, munching ineffectively on a raw carrot.

"Doing?" he asked.

"Who, me? Or Rick?"

"You."

"Watching the cat sleep on Rick."

"Why?"

"Because that cat doesn't like anybody but Greg. Usually not, anyway." I suppose that was too complex for Aidan to follow, because he just stared at me for a while, chewing on his carrot.

"No; why seeping," he clarified. I suppose he meant sleeping.

"Because he's tired, I guess."

Aidan stared at me again,still chewing. I hadn't answered the right question. Or, he had another one he didn't know how to ask. So I just started talking.

"That cat likes Rick. I can tell, because cats only sleep on people they like. But I didn't know he liked Rick. It surprised me. I thought he only liked Greg."

"Seeping...foor."

"The floor? Yeah, the floor is a funny place for a man to sleep, huh? I guess Rick is really tired."

Aidan stood there for a while, chewing on his carrot and staring at Rick. He seems so thoughtful, but there is no way to ask what he's thinking.

"I can't wait until you really learn how to talk," I told him.

"Me!" he answered, definitively.

"Yeah, I bet you can't wait, either."

Rick groaned and rolled over again, this time onto his back. The cat fell off, then climbed back on and settled, fortunately without kneading, over Rick's groin.

"Here, let's go somewhere else so Rick can sleep, ok?" I told Aidan.

"Cawa," he said, brandishing his carrot.

"Yes, but bring your carrot over here, ok?"

"No, you!"

"I should bring your carrot?"

"No, you. Some?"

"I should have some of your carrot?"

"Mmm-hmmm."

"Ok, thanks, but over here."

It's funny. A year ago, Aidan was a toddler. Or, less than a year, I guess. I'm thinking of that party right before Brigid. Anyway, he was a toddler. He could walk and eat real food and talk a little. Now, he's still a toddler. He can walk and eat real food and talk a little. It's like nothing has changed. Toddlers take a long time. And yet, "talk a little" means something completely different than it did before. Inside the sameness is a world of difference.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 3: First Snowfall



[Author's note: I have no direct experience with the surprising and, in most states, illegal herbal treatment described below. According to everything I've read, however, it should work, for the reasons given in the text. Hopefully, now that the laws are changing, someone can try it and document the results].
 
I forget if I’ve mentioned it, but I do have some assignments for the off-season. Joy asked me to practice Reiki on myself every day and recite some things. I have books to read again, though this time Charlie asked me to come up with my own reading list. I think he wants me to explore my own tastes in nature writing. And I’m still going tracking with Rick and hiking every day, at least until Christmas—I’m planning on going home for Christmas this year, and I may well stay with my parents until Brigid, just to visit.
And I’m even still working on the horticulture team—we’ll go until the snow covers the ground at least, according to Charlie. Which is interesting, because he’s still supervising us. Not every day, obviously, but we meet with him every week or so to go over what we’re doing and so forth. Last year once the school year ended he seemed to vanish. I assumed he had retreated utterly, or maybe even left campus, though it’s hard to imagine him being anywhere else. And the whole time, at least until the snow came, he was still supervising the horticulture team.
Anyway, the other day I had some hours to make up so I volunteered to process some of the seeds for next year. Most of the plantings on campus are designed to be self-maintaining populations, but some die out for whatever reason, and anyway he’s always adding species to the campus plan. So in the spring there are always new things to plant, usually from seed. But wild plant seeds do not just sprout as soon as they’re planted the way domestic seeds do—if they did, they’d sprout as soon as they fell off the parent plant and that might be the wrong season for the seedling to survive. So, to get wild seeds to sprout you often have to chill them for a certain number of hours or bang them up a bit to simulate being tumbled in a flood, or something similar. It’s called stratification, and each species has its own requirement. My job was to sort out this year’s batches of seeds and bang them up or prepare them for cold storage or whatever they needed according to a sheet of instructions.
It’s basically a one-person job, because all the batches are small, but it’s tedious so I asked Ebony to keep me company while I worked. She has little to no interest in plants, natural science, or pretty much anything else I’m doing with Charlie, but she likes to sit and talk and she didn’t have anything else to do.
The main greenhouse was built on the foundation of—I think it was the old school building, from back when this was a boys’ boarding school. So, under the greenhouse is this huge basement. We—the horticulture team—use it for storage and as an indoor workspace. That’s where I had to go to do my work.
When Ebony and I got down there, we found Kit working on an unrelated project—planting jonquil bulbs to force for Brigid.
“Charlie would object, of course,” she commented, her voice acidic with disdain. She meant he’d object to the jonquils for Brigid. She’s probably right, exotic plants being forced to flower out of season doesn’t really sound like his thing, but I don't know why she felt the need to point that out. It's not like his approval has any bearing on what she does.  She often speaks about him like that, and I ignore it. The three of us sat together and talked while Kit and I worked. She finished before me, but stuck around until I was done, and three of us left together.
By the time we left, night had fallen and the greenhouse was very dark. I pulled out my flashlight, but it didn’t work. The lightbulb had died. Kit confessed she had left her flashlight in her room by mistake, when she'd changed her clothes.
“Maybe you should lead me?” I suggested to Ebony, since she’s used to not being able to see and she had her cane with her, folded up in her bag. I knew almost as soon as I said it how she’d reply.
“I’d better not. I’m a really bad blind person.”
She meant that she doesn’t have any of those special powers of perception that blind people are supposed to develop and she isn’t very good at the habits and skills they teach blind people so they can get by. It’s because she doesn’t think of herself as blind. I used to get my brain fairly bent over that—how can someone not identify as blind when she is, in fact, blind? A couple of weeks ago, though, she used the phrase around Security Joe, who understood immediately.
“I used to be a really bad woman,” he said. “I couldn’t be bothered to wear a bra. I’d walk around with my tits bouncing all over the place—which was totally counter-productive, from a gender-identity perspective. I think I just kept hoping they’d go away. And eventually, I made them go away.”
Maybe because Security Joe is so obviously a guy, that made sense to me. When I try to picture him as a woman, the best I can do is imagine him in a kind of woman-suit, like a guy in fleshy drag. I guess that’s how it felt to him, too, like a disguise he couldn’t take off.  Like the problems of his actual woman's body were so remote, so alien, that he couldn't quite believe he had to deal with him. I guess Ebony's eyes are similar, in that respect.

Anyway, I was pretty sure I could walk out of the dark greenhouse without the aid of my eyes--I'm almost as good at being blind as Ebony, now--but I couldn't lead her at the same time and she isn't familiar with the greenhouse. Neither is Kit, I don't think. Either of them could trip or knock something over. When a woman near me has a problem, I feel responsible for fixing it. I can't help it. And here I'd caused the problem. I was about ten seconds in to an unproductive guilt trip when Kit guessed that Ebony also carried a flashlight. And, of course, she would--the sighted students all carry flashlights, because much of campus is dark at night, so she carries one too. In her mind, she's a sighted student. Also, a forgetful one.

"I am such a doofus!" she exclaimed, and unclipped her light from her belt and handed it to me. We made our way outside and I turned the light off and returned it. We all know how to find our way to the Mansion by our feet, and there was a little glow off the clouds from the lights of the towns nearby.

Outside, in the dark, I heard something.

Or, rather, I didn't hear something, a curious quality of wet silence. I turned my face up to the sky, attentive, and felt something cold and soft, like rain, only I could not hear any rain.

"It's snowing," I told Ebony, although there was no reason she could not have worked that out for herself. We were both equally blind at the moment. Kit giggled. She likes snow, and none of us had expected it quite so early.

Almost immediately, we heard another noise, the rumble of an engine, an approaching truck. Cars and trucks are rare on campus, especially at night, so we waited for it to come so Kit could identify the driver. She borrowed Ebony's flashlight and turned it on, so we would be visible to the driver. 

The driver stopped in front of us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and asked if we knew where "Barn B" is. Of course, there is no Barn B., because we only have one barn. Kit went over to talk with him while Ebony and I waited, standing half in the brightness of the truck's headlights.. In the yellow light I could see snow clinging to Ebony's dark hair and the shoulders of her cloak, great flakes, piles of flakes, melting slowly into the black wool. The air was fairly warm, so the snowflakes were huge, the way the moon looks huge when it first rises. The thick flakes swarmed around her, almost like live things. Ebony swayed and reached out her hand, pawing the air as though seeking something stable. I took her hand. I think I am stable. I want to be.

"It's so bright!" she said. "It hurts my eyes!" She can see some light, though not enough to be useful. Usually bright light doesn't bother her, though. "It feels like it's poking my eyeballs!"

"You're looking right at the truck's headlights," I told her. "Turn towards me instead." She did, but with the way we were standing I could still see her eyes fairly well--and I about fell over when I saw her eyes focus on me for a moment. I saw her see. 

She didn't look at me very long, maybe a couple of seconds, before her attention shifted back to the beam of the truck's headlights. This time she was looking across the beam, not into it.


"I feel like I'm falling," she said, suddenly. "Something's pulling me down and--to the left? And it's very bright, bright but with dark spots mixed in. It's confused and moving and soft. What is it? What am I seeing?"

"Snow falling," I told her after a moment's thought. "You're seeing the snow falling through the beam of light from the truck. They are falling down and to our left. The bright parts are snowflakes, the dark parts are the dark night behind them."

"Really? Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why can I see the snowflakes in the beam of light but not otherwise, and why can I still see the dark if a light's on?"

Ebony can see some light, as I've said, and sometimes asks for help in making sense of what she sees, but she never gets this much detail--and I've never seen her eyes focus, either. I tried answering her  questions.

"Because the snowflakes interrupt the beam of light and redirect it to your eyes. And where there is no snowflake, there is nothing to redirect the light, so all you see is darkness. Remember Laser Day in Intro to Physics? But"-- I was about to ask her how she was seeing in the first place when Kit stepped away from the truck. 

We stepped back, too, and it drove on. Kit rejoined us and explained that whoever had written the driver's orders had made a kind of manual stutter--the B for Barn was written twice. He was carrying a load of hay for the horses and other animals. Ebony started telling her all about her visual discoveries, as excited as a little kid but much more articulate.

"Right now?" Kit asked. "But you're on campus."

"Exactly," Ebony replied. "That's why I ate it when I found it in my purse."

"You don't need me to tell you not to lose those things."

"I know. I am a mess."

I was both literally and metaphorically in the dark, but I had--back in the basement, about an hour earlier--noticed Ebony discover what looked like half a plastic-wrapped brownie in her purse. She'd eaten it quickly, and I'd gotten the puzzling impression that she wasn't hungry so much as trying to make the brownie go away. What they were saying now confirmed that strange impression--the brownie was contraband. The obvious explanation was that it was a pot-brownie. I've never had one, but I know they exist, and there is a strict rule against bringing illegal substances on campus. But what did that have to do with Ebony suddenly being able to see?

"Um," I began.

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony explained, cheerfully. I looked at Kit, but I couldn't see her face in the dark. She didn't seem surprised, though. She knew.

"Um, what?"

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony reiterated. "I'm not sure why, exactly. I was born with damage to my retinas--I don't have a lot of photoreceptors left. So I don't see much light, and without anything to focus on, my eyes jerk around all the time--that's called nystagmus. So what I do see is all jumbled up and my brain never learned out to make sense of the information.  There are cannabinoid receptors in the retina, as well as in the brain, so maybe the drug acts as a kind of amplifier? So the photoreceptors I do have can see enough to focus and my eyes stop jumping around. Cannibis is already used for a lot of eye-related ailments since the cannabinoids seem to protect the retina in some way. Maybe they can undo damage as well? Also, there are people who use cannabis to control other disorders involving uncontrolled muscular movement, like epilepsy and the spasticity of cerebral palsy. So maybe it also helps keep my eyes from moving so much that way. But, it's not like I understand what I'm seeing, and what I can see is really unpredictable. I've never seen snow falling before."

"You have to learn to see now, the way babies do," commented Kit. "You should probably go someplace where it's light now, to practice," she added.  "So you don't waste this one. Too bad Allen left already."

"What does Allen have to do with it?" I asked.

"He's helping me," Ebony explained. "Or I'm helping him. Anyway, he's really interested in my process of seeing. We go off campus."

"But we don't have masters who can supervise drug-induced explorations," I said, almost quoting the school rule on the subject. "Is that rule not real?"

"Oh, it's real," Kit assured me.

"He's not supervising my drug use," Ebony put in. "We're working more as equals, and we're focusing on perception. Anyway, it's not the high itself that matters. I like being high, but I don't like having to be high in order to see. I wish there was a pill I could take, or eye drops or something."

I considered. Allen was taking Ebony off campus somewhere on a regular basis so she could get high and experiment with vision. It was sort of awesome to consider how much trouble he could get into if caught. There was something deliciously scandalous about the idea of a student getting high with a teacher...as soon as I had the thought I realized my internal monologue had made it sound as though Allen were getting stoned also. Was he? Which one of them was buying? How deeply was he involved?

I should say that my crowd in high school never really got into drugs and that I probably sound really naive right now.

"None of us actually know about any of this," Kit put in, in a tone of voice suggesting that all of the masters knew.

"Like how Charlie told Rick to go out on 'shelter nights' in snow-storms?" I asked. The shelter night assignments were dangerous, and Charlie had taken steps to insulate the school from liability if anything went wrong.

"Right. None of us know about that, either," confirmed Kit.

We continued walking. The snow continued falling. They have a curious attitude about rules, here. Mostly the masters ignore the law where they see fit--and that's about everything, from legal liability to how many deer Charlie shoots every year. It's not that they aren't bound by rules, it's that the masters act as though the school were a separate jurisdiction, a kind of Avalon. The rules that they do have--to support and respect each other, to meet the educational needs of the students, for example, or to protect the school, they follow absolutely.

When we got to the Mansion, Kit ran in to the Herbarium and got a big flashlight. The whole Mansion seemed nearly dark from the outside, there are no outdoor lights and the few indoor lights that were on were dimmed by drawn window-shades. Out on the dark lawn, then, with the fat white flakes melting into the grass around us, we set the light on the ground pointed straight up. The snow flurried down out of the black sky like a swarm of luminescent jellyfish, swirling, dizzying, and giddy. Ebony reached her hands up, catching the flakes on her palms and her lovely but almost inexpressive face. Kit danced around us, spinning like a planet, her red hair frosted with snow.

"The world is a snowball," she sang.

The world is a snowball, see how it grows.
That's how it grows, whenever it snows.
The world is a snowball, just for a song.
You better get up, and roll it along!* 

* This song is "Marshmallow World," by Peter De Rose and Carl Sigman. The version Kit sang is very close to Brenda Lee's recording.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 2: After Samhain

And so the old year passes. I mean the school year is over, of course, but Samhain is the Celtic New Year, according to the Wiccans on campus, anyway. I've noticed they seem to see a death-and-rebirth theme in all of the sabbats. I said something about that to Kit, once, that it seemed like something was always ending and something else beginning, and she rolled her eyes and said "well, duh." She wasn't unfriendly about it, though.

Anyway, campus is growing quiet, chilly, and dark. A lot of people have left for the winter already, we've had our first hard frosts, and the leaves are almost all down from the trees. It very much seems as though something is over--it's not that I'm upset or gloomy, it's just that the world seems to be doing exactly what the Samhain imagery says it should.

And I was thinking about this--for some people it is very much an ending-and-beginning. The people graduating, for one. And there's David, Allen's son.

I bumped into him on Samhain day, walking towards the Mansion with some clothes and other things in his arms. We stopped to say hi, and when he saw me looking at the stuff he was carrying he freely admitted it was his ninja costume from the previous night.

"It was a pretty good disguise, don't you think?" he asked. "I looked like a real ninja. I wanted my last costume to be good one."

"Aren't we supposed to pretend I don't know that was you?" I asked him.

He shrugged a little.

"Maybe if the other kids were around," he began. "See, that's just it, though. I'm thinking about the other kids, pretending for their sake. And I spent half my time last night babysitting the Littles" --he meant Alexis and Billie, who are both only four--"I don't mind babysitting, but the whole point of Samhain is you get to do things you couldn't do with a babysitter watching you. I guess I'm just not a Sprout anymore, that's all."

"Really? You're not thirteen yet. You could go on being a Sprout, if you wanted to," I told him. He seemed sad, and I was sad for him. Being a Sprout looks like a lot of fun. I didn't want to see him stop any earlier than he had to.

"I guess," he replied, shrugging again. "But everything ends. That's the other point of Samhain." And he went on his way.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Year 2: Samhain



Happy Samhain.

It’s interesting going through these holidays for the second time, since I know more or less what’s going to happen, and even something of why things are going to happen. For the ceremony in Chapel Hall, I sat next to Ebony, who is a yearling, and had no idea what was going on—all the more so because, as she explained, at Brigid she was too shy to ask anyone to describe the inaudible aspects of the ceremony. So the procession and everything else the two ceremonies have in common were new to her, too. I described things for her—including what things look like. It still sort of warps my mind that she wants to know that, that visual descriptions are even meaningful to her, but they are, so I provided them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One thing was new for me this year, though. Since I’m on the landscaping crew, I’ve been one of the people decorating the campus for the holiday—along with the farming team and a group of volunteers working with Karen (she does flower arrangements). Last year I had a role, too, on the cleaning crew, but that was mostly afterward, shutting down Chapel Hall for the season. So, last year all the decorations showing up, and especially all the little lights that lined the campus roads, it all had a kind of magical quality, as though it had been done by elves. This year, it again had a magical quality, except I got to be one of the elves.

One of the things I’ve learned here is to go on finding something magical, in the sense of wondrous, even when I know exactly how it works.

I am glad it was last year and not this year that I got to look out the window and see the campus unexpectedly twinkling with stars—this year there was a bit of a breeze Samhain night and half the candles had blown out before anybody really got to see it.

So, we all assembled in the Chapel to bid farewell to the year. I sat with Ebony and Kayla and, as I said, explained how things looked, how the masters processed in, their faces lit by candles, and how by the light of their candles added to that of the candles already in the room, the chapel as a whole went sort of honey-colored, brighter than you’d think candles could go, yet the ceiling was still lost in the gloom. It might almost have been open to the sky.

“Is that why the light’s flickering?” Ebony asked. “Because it’s candle-light?”
“No,” I told her, “candles only flicker in a breeze, and anyway, there’s so many the flickers kind of cancel each other out. I don’t see a flicker.”
“Oh. Maybe it’s just my eyes being weird.” She sounded disappointed.

One thing I’ve learned, this year and last, is that when the masters do something, especially in ceremony, they usually have a reason. I’ve even learned what some of them are—the procession functions as what Kit calls an induction, the initial steps of a ceremony that key the mind for the rest. Ebony could not see the procession, and until I told her about it, she didn’t even realize there had been one. At Brigid, she had assumed they were in the Chapel with us from the beginning. 

Now that I’m mostly in the habit of thinking of Ebony as a sighted person (who just happens to have her eyes closed at the moment), when I notice something that she doesn’t get to do or experience because her eyes don’t actually work well enough, it seems really unfair. Like, it makes me angry, but I don’t know who I’m angry at.

Thinking about how much of what we do here—what Kit would call our language of ceremony—she might have missed by not having someone to tell her what things looked like, I got to wondering what Ebony’s own language of ceremony is. Is she Wiccan, Heathan, Christian, or what? So I asked.
“Zen Jewdist,” she answered, and giggled. I couldn’t get her to explain that to me because Allen had begun speaking from the stage.

The ceremony went just about the same as it did last year, except that there was no ritual to hand off the position of Head of the Masters’ Group—that position rotates every two years, so Allen gets another year at it. Then followed the reading of names, the short eulogies for the recently (only one, this year), and then a moment of silence for all those who died in the September 11th attacks.

“Now, let’s have a moment of NOISE for all those who died September 11th!” shouted Allen. “They can’t celebrate, so let’s do it for ‘em!”

We all whooped and cheered.

Then, we sang our goofy memorial song, with each person who wanted to offering a verse and then we all came in on the chorus*:

Hats off to dead folks, wherever they may be,
cause they had the best hopes for you and for me.
I stand up for dead folks, so you'll hear me say my
hat's off to dead folks, and I know I'll be one someday.

Last year I didn’t offer a verse, partly because I didn’t know about the song ahead of time, and partly because I didn’t think I’d really known anybody who died. I mean, there was my Great-Aunt Ida, but I’d hardly known her. But then I got thinking of the little kitten I had when I was small, and how I’d made myself stop grieving him when Aunt Ida died, because he was just a cat and being sad about a cat was silly and babyish. But he wasn’t only a cat to me.

I don’t think Charlie would hesitate to grieve an animal, and obviously Joy wouldn’t. And Greg has his cat, who follows him around campus and lets no one but Greg pet him, and who doesn’t seem to have any name but Greg’s Cat. And so I made a verse. I waited until the end to sing it, I wasn’t sure I was even going to, but then, right when Kit, who lead the song, was about to finish up, I stood up and sang.

I had a cat when I was small
He was black and white and mine.
I guess you could say we had a ball
But we ran out of time.
He died before he was one year old,
he taught a boy to grieve
And it’s silly but my heart still asks
Why did you have to leave?
And then the others came in on the chorus. Nobody laughed at me. I felt better.
Afterwards, Kit came to find me and ask about my cat.
“What was his name?” she asked.
“Sanchez.”
“How old were you?”
“Seven.”
“Why did you say it’s silly?”
I told her. She smiled.
“You can’t weigh grief, so there’s no such thing as one grief being bigger or more important than another,” she told me. “You feel how you feel. Sanchez was lucky to have you.” She squeezed my arm in a friendly way, and might have been about to say something else when the bell rang. Kit, along with every other master in the room, immediately went about blowing out candles and leaving, without further acknowledging any of us.
They blew out every candle they’d brought in but one, and that one Allen carried as they all processed out, taking their light with them.
“They just left? In the middle of their sentences?” Ebony asked me, when I explained their exit to her.
“Well, yes,” I told her. “Sometimes people do leave that way.”
*The song, "Hats off to Dead Folks," is a rewritten version of "Hats off to Old Folks," by Steve Romanoff. It was first recorded by Schooner Fare on their "The First Ten Years" album, in 1986

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Year 2: 7th Interlude



Hi, it’s Daniel-of-2014 here.

Is it really time to do another "interlude"? This past month and a half has flown by somehow. Did I skip a post somewhere? How is it there have been so few since Mabon?

Anyway, I sit down to start this entry, and I realize I’m about to sound like the proverbial broken record; another interlude, another post about the cuteness of my daughter, the advance of the seasons, and getting together with the others to celebrate the Sabbats.

And yet there are changes. Carly is talking now, not just a smattering of isolated words but two and even three-word sentences. It’s possible to have a conversation with her, of sorts.

And when we get together for the Sabbats, it’s starting to feel less like an exercise in nostalgia and more a new thing, a new tradition with its own wholeness. It’s been three years, after all; the loss of the school as an institution is not a new thing anymore. In those three years, a lot has happened—Carly’s whole life, for example, and a quarter of Aidan’s. This will likely be his last Samhain as a Sprout. Based on his comments at the march in September, he could start next year as a student, which raises the question, how do we have students if we don’t have a school?

Greg articulated the shift for us at a meeting of the Six a few weeks ago.

“We have a decision to make,” he said. “Do we want to move on, or do we want to move on?”

Greg has a knack for saying the things the rest of us know and don’t know that we know. He observes well. He witnesses. But his initial synopsis of a situation is often cryptic. It took the rest of us a couple of seconds to realize what he meant and to agree.

“Yes, it’s time,” said Joy. “The ‘over’ is over.”

“Curious,” observed Karen, “each of us would say it in a different way.” 

Greg nodded.

 “How would you put it, Daniel?” asked Allen. “You’re the Chronicler.” 

They have started calling me that, but it doesn’t just mean that I’m a blogger. I thought for a moment.

“I’d say it depends on what story we want to be telling,” I said, after a moment’s thought, “whether the closing of the campus was the end, the beginning, or the middle of the tale.  But” --and here a new idea, a new perspective occurred to me—“I don’t think that’s the best question, because I don’t think we get to decide what story we are telling or where we are in it. We do get to decide whether we are telling one story together, or six different stories.”

The others seemed to think that was profound—their faces changed. I was rather pleased with it myself. I don’t know where half the things I say come from, they just arrive and I let them out. Just like I don’t know how or why I came to join the school in the first place. All my best decisions surprise me.

“Daniel the Chronicler,” Kit said, fondly. “You reflect us, refract us. We would not be what we are without you.” I blushed at the unexpected praise, but Kit continued. “And that, I think, is the answer—Daniel changes our wholeness, shifts the dynamic of us. But he couldn’t do that if there weren’t still an ‘us,’ could he?” The rest of us looked around at each other, a bit stunned, but reassured. Kit was right. But she cut off further discussion with one hand. “But I think we should not talk about the issue further right now. This needs more dreaming.”

And we went on to talk about other things.

I know all this might seem a little arcane, but that is really how the group of us discuss issues. We are used to it, so it makes sense to us. I guess the way to explain it is that instead of talking about pros and cons and wants and needs and opinions, we mostly observe and refine where we are in a decision process. Eventually, we observe that the decision has been made. I don’t mean that we never actually decide things as a group the way other people do, only that we do it less often. Charlie once told me that the big decisions make themselves, and the key is to focus on becoming a person whose decisions are good. I guess that’s what we do as a group—work on being the kind of group that has good decisions while we wait for the decision to present itself.

Each of us has a knack for taking care of a different dimension of the group process—Greg witnesses, Joy intuits shifting energies, Kit entrains with relevant myths, I attend to what narrative we are playing out, and so on. Together, we make a single conversation, a single, gradually shifting entity, the Six (sometimes we are more or less than six, but we’re always called the Six).

I’m not sure that the above conversation is really clear to you, my readers, since you are not used to how we do things. But I’m going to act like a master and be mysterious by not explaining.  I’ll do as Kit said and let it dream a while longer.

In the meantime, my family has been invited to a children’s Hallowe’en party this week. The hosts own the in-home daycare we use for babysitting occasionally, so Carly is friends with some of the other children there. We’re going to the party so she can play with her friends. I hadn’t known kids her age can have friends yet, but evidently she can and does. Fortunately, the party is on Saturday, not on Hallowe’en itself, because Hallowe’en is the same day as Samhain.

The two holidays are very different, as I discovered years ago—the decorations and traditions are mostly the same, but the themes are almost diametrically opposed. As the years have gone by, my wife and I have celebrated Samhain more and more and Hallowe’en less and less, but we’ve never actually made a declaration about it. The two merge into each other. How Carly will sort all of this out, I do not know. 

I should probably ask Aidan how he did it.                    

[Next Post: November 3rd., Samhain]