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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Part 1: Post 12: New Ways

You know, it's an odd thing, but everything here is about as environmentally sensitive as you can get and nobody ever says anything about it.

This is the Great Hall, except I left out most of the furnature because I worried it would make the picture too busy.
The lights, for example. Not only do people always turn them off when they leave the room, half the  time, they don't even turn them on. I mean, the lights are only turned on if someone is going to be using a room, they aren't left on for the convenience of people who might be passing through. And if someone is just moving through the Great Hall on the way somewhere, or poking into the Rose Room to retrieve a lost hat, if the light is off they'll let it stay that way. Everybody carries a little flashlight on their belts, just in case, and half the time I think people just rely on memory to get around. I've gone into the bathroom in the middle of the night, switched on the light, and found two guys already in there, peeing in the dark. They both told me to turn the light out, it hurt their eyes. I suppose this habit of not using the lights if you're just going to be in there a minute saves a lot of power, considering how many people there are on campus and how often somebody or other is just poking in to any given place, but it's kind of weird.

And nobody has said anything about doing it for the environment. If you leave the light on, some senior student will just remind you to turn it off, as if you forgot. If you say anything about it, they'll act like it's just entirely self-evident not to use unnecessary electricity. Except for phone and internet service, the whole campus is off the grid, so I suppose electricity is in kind of short supply anyway. There are solar collectors on all the roofs and a couple of small wind generators, and when it isn't sunny there's usually a breeze, but I'm sure there's none to waste...but nobody talks about why we're off the grid. Everywhere else I've been, if something's environmental, they crow about it. Recycled paper! 10% post-consumer content! Recycled plastic lunch trays! A new initiative to derive 30% of all our electricity from sustainable sources by 2015! I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. And here they've actually done it, they've gone all the way, done everything I can think of to "green" the campus, and it's a total non-issue, a self-evident value.

The food, as I've said, is local. The water is well-water and filtered rainwater--all the rain from the roofs drains into cisterns under ground or in the basements. All the buildings have separate black water and grey water systems, and the black water is processed on site to separate the liquids from the solids and the solids are composted.The liquids are filtered and sent out through a septic field, but I've heard there are plans to build a "living machine," a series of wetland gardens where micro-organisms filter the waste water by living in it. I just attended a talk on all of this stuff today, explaining how the various campus systems work. They make their own soap from animal fat and ashes! These guys are hard core (though most people actually buy their soap from off campus; I know I do).

The cars and other vehicles on campus all run on veggie diesel, which they make here on campus using donated used cooking oil from local restaurants. The cars smell like french fries going down the road, I am not even kidding. And of course, there are the bicycles I keep mentioning.

The bicycles are a good segue into the other thing I wanted to talk about today, which is that we have a new student. I was there when he showed up. His name is Andy, and he's in my dorm.

I understand it's really unusual for someone to come in after Brigid like this, but his is kind of a special case. He's in a bad way, as my mother would say.

So I was in the front office, getting ready to use the phone there, when this man came in. He looked a bit scruffy, thinning hair, maybe in his mid-thirties or so. This was about two days ago, now. So, he walked up to Sharon and, very nervously told her that he had returned the bicycle. I put the phone down to listen, because I thought it was odd that someone I didn't know at all had borrowed a campus bicycle. I thought I knew all the students by this time, so who was he, and why was he so nervous? But Sharon didn't seem to think it was at all strange, she just thanked him and acted like she was about to go back to her work.

"But I'm the one who took it," the man clarified, becoming even more nervous, and I began to see what was going on. The bicycles aren't locked, and outsiders do occasionally come in. I mean, I did, I used to be an outsider. But Sharon refused to acknowledge the thief.

"Yes," she, said to him, "thank you for bringing it back."

"No, you don't understand!" he said, growing desperate, "I'm the one who took it, I stole it, I'm the one who took your missing bicycle!" But Sharon still refused to get angry.

"Yes," she acknowledged, "I knew what you meant, but you see, I don't personally own any bicycles, so you can't steal one. These bicycles are available to be borrowed. You took one and you returned it, so there isn't any problem. Now, is there anything else I can help you with?"

I was having a really hard time not laughing, but Sharon stayed completely straight-faced, bright-eyed, professional, and chipper. The man stared at her.

"Jesus," he whispered, and I thought he was just using the name as an expression until he said it again, but louder. "Jesus! You're talking like Jesus! No one's ever actually treated me like this before! Are you Christian?"

Sharon shook her head.

"Is that a problem for you?" she asked.

"No, I don't know, I mean, I don't know who I am to have a problem with anything," the man babbled, vaguely. Then he refocused. "But Christ is here! I know it! The spirit of Christ is here!" He looked around himself in a kind of crazy wonder and then, to my amazement, he completely broke down. "Let me stay here!" he begged, "Please let me stay! I knew this was a college, but I didn't know what kind--please teach me whatever miracles you work here! I can't pay anything, I don't have any money, but I'll work, I'll do anything, I'll borrow money, I swear I will, just please let me stay!"

He was half raving, but to my ear, he had just passed the entrance exam. Sharon evidently thought so, too, because she got him settled in a chair and told him he could stay.

"But tell me where you're coming from," she asked, gently, "why are you so upset?"

The man introduced himself by name and, with evident discomfort, explained that he'd just gotten sober. I got the feeling he didn't just mean he'd quit alcohol. He said he was on probation after a string of small thefts, mostly small amounts of money or things he could use or sell to support himself. He couldn't seem to hold a job anymore. He was homeless, and had been living in a shelter in the small city nearby, but he'd left because some of the other men there were using drugs. He'd tried to join a local yoga retreat center, but that had fallen through and he was currently sleeping in somebody's garage. He'd wanted the bike to try to get a job, but it wasn't clear how the bike was supposed to help given what he'd said about being unable to hold a job, and at this point his story seemed to get confused. Anyway, he'd recently gotten religion and sobriety and decided he had to give up the bike...given his history, I wondered if he'd been hoping to get arrested so at least he could sleep warm. Listening to him, I was torn between a desire to help him and a desire to be as far away from such an evidently broken person I could get. Sharon, too, seemed lost in thought.

But then she appeared to notice me and called me over. Andy was evidently quite startled that I was there and embarrassed that I had seen his outburst. I smiled at him, lamely. Sharon introduced me to him and asked me to see if I could please go find Sarah. Sarah is the farm manager, and I think she's the only Christian on staff, so I assume Sharon wanted him to be able to talk with a coreligionist before he really committed himself to this place. I wondered briefly why she didn't just send me to find Ollie, but maybe she was trying to protect Andy's privacy.

With that possibility in mind, when I found Sarah I sent her on to the office alone. By the time I got back to the office to make my phone call, Andy and Sarah were both gone and I asked no questions. But now Andy is back, he just arrived today and got settled. He's wrapped up in a borrowed blanket eating sandwiches and cookies by the wood stove now. I think he's leaving tomorrow for some sort of in patient treatment. Some of the senior students have guessed that he's showing signs of chronic hypothermia, as well as lingering symptoms of substance abuse. He really should have gone in today, I suppose, or even two days ago, but I gather there's been some struggle to secure funding for him. Obviously, he has no insurance, and I understand the rules about paying for the care of the indigent are somewhat Byzantine.

I am just blown away by the generosity of this place. It's the same thing as the little tin cup they gave  me my first night, except of course it's so much bigger. He just shows up on our doorstep, passes the exam to get in, and now we're treating him like family, bending over backwards to help him get the care he needs to get healthy again. I'm not sure he has any family; if he has, they're not taking care of him.

I guess some of us come here for Harry Potter and some of us come here for Jesus, and I suppose all of us are going to find what we need here, somehow.

[Next Post: March 8th: Bumping Into Allen in Church]

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