It's happened again.
How, in my year, there were a bizarre number of people named either Raven or Joe? This year, the incoming crop of new students includes no less than four people named some variation of Tom: Tom, Thom, Tommy, and Tommi, that last one being a woman. And there are two women named Patricia, though fortunately one goes by Patti and the other by Trish.
Eight of the new people are in my dorm. They are welcome. It's odd, though. Except for those eight, I find myself less interested in getting to know the new people. Last year I was all excited to meet the newbies, mostly because I wasn't new anymore myself and wanted to sort of glory in not being completely confused. I don't mean I wanted to lord it over them (not much, anyway), I mean I wanted to be useful, but for the most part they ended up not needing me. I ended up not getting to know a lot of them. This year I'm kind of expecting that. I know I won't have classes with most of them. I see them walk by in groups and just think "oh, new people."
I'm hoping that will change. I like getting to know people.
As I said, Arther is back. He and I were never close, but it's good to see him. Normally, graduates have to stay gone for at least three years before coming back and trying for their green ring, but Arther was given special dispensation because of his age.
He says it's because the masters don't want him to die of old age before he gets back (which is unlikely--he's seventy years old, and in good health, and that's not really that old anymore, except as compared to most college students). But I understand the real reason has more to do with his experience than with his health; the whole point of Absence is to keep the community from becoming too insular. People who wear the green ring are eligible to be hired as masters, and they don't want to risk the school being run by people who joined the community at 19 or 20 and just never left. That's not a problem for Arther.
But his age is very much on his mind.
I asked him what he plans to study this time--mastery candidates work with a single master around a single topic. Excellence in that one topic becomes a "way in" to a deeper kind of mastery, as far as I've been able to gather. So I asked Arther what his topic will be.
"Old age," he told me, without hesitation. "My wife's dead, my coven is broken up, I'm retired...I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. I've reinvented myself before, I could do it again, but do I really want to start over as if I were 24 again? Go looking for a job, a career, or a girlfriend? You don't know this yet, but life depends on context. And mine's shifted. I need to learn how to be an old man."
I must have seemed rather blank, because he reverted to teacher-mode.
"Life comes in stages, Daniel. Maiden, Mother, and Crone for women, Summer King and Winter King for men. I don't feel like an old guy. I look in the mirror and I think 'what the hell happened to you?' I feel like I'm forty--old enough to know better but young enough to pretend I don't, eh? But I don't look forty. I don't act forty. My body's in pretty good shape, but that's going to change. Pretending that's not going to alter my life is stupid. I've been a priest almost my whole adult life, but how do I be a priest who is old? Who is ill? How is that going to change what I have to offer? What does being a Winter King priest entail? So I'm here to learn."
Arther is positive and upbeat about the eventuality of his physical decline. Rick is the opposite. Everything is going obviously well for him, and yet he seems melancholy.
But with all this coming and going, new people and old feeling and thinking however they do, there is a new scent in the dorms--Kit's flowers, the ones she planted in pots the day Ebony and I saw the snow falling. Each dorm has a pot of them, and they're blooming, little yellow flowers blooming in February.