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 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 would 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.
“How old were you?”
“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

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