So, we've just had Lincoln's birthday and Washington's birthday is coming up. We've done nothing whatever to celebrate as a campus, although Greg, who is, remember, a history teacher, offered some related talks--I think there were two on Lincoln, one on his spirituality and the other on his racial attitudes, something like that, and there's one coming up on the mythologization of Washington. But mostly we're ignoring these "holidays." I don't think I even noticed them last year.
But it got me thinking--Valentine's Day is, of course, a real Catholic holiday, the Feast of St. Valentine (there are actually two Saints Valentine, I believe, who were martyred on the same day of different years), as is St. Patrick's Day, but that's not why most Americans celebrate them. We certainly don't celebrate the other Catholic saints. But then there are people like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington who get their own days.
Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Christopher Columbus...how do we decide who gets to be a secular saint? Why Abraham Lincoln and not Franklyn Delano Roosevelt? Why Dr. King and not Harvey Milk?
What, exactly, is a holiday, anyway?
I normally don't think about this sort of thing. I'm a pretty practical person, in some ways, and these questions don't really have definite answers, but being around here is making me more speculative and analytical.
As I've said before, everyone here asks questions and discusses ideas here all the time--almost literally. The community here is an almost uninterrupted conversation about everything in the world, this constant process of each of us questioning assumptions, exploring ideas, and sharing experiences.
I missed this when I was at home. I missed it before I got here. It's like...before I came here everything seemed shallow and pointless, not because my family is shallow--none of them are. But they don't talk about the depths much, so how was I to know what was going on? We'd talk about our days, watch TV together, catch a movie...and I can't do anything else when I'm with them. I don't know how, I'm not any good at talking, though I'm a decent listener. I go with the flow, I have a good time, I help out around the house and I feel like I'm suffocating. I come back to campus and I feel quite literally stirred.
I noticed last year that this is something we do on purpose as a community. We don't just happen to talk a lot about certain things, we actively teach new students how to interact this way. It's a culture, as in something we cultivate. We live here, I live here, and change. It's catching.
And now we have a whole new group of students to whom to transmit the bug.
Speaking of distinctively campus-ish activities, did I mention it's cold? The weather is about the same here as my parents' house, they don't live that far away, but they keep their house at 75 degrees and the Mansion here hasn't been more than about sixty degrees for months, except right near one of the stoves. At night the fires in the stoves die down to coals or sometimes go out entirely and the temperature in our rooms drops into the low forties.The condensation on the inside of the sliding glass balcony doors sometimes freezes overnight.
I got used to all of that before, and I'm getting used to it again. It was only the first week or so back that it really bothered me. Already it's starting to seem more reasonable to put on long-johns and a hat to go to bed. It's not really that cold--the Mansion is pretty well insulated and sealed. When it's forty degrees in my bedroom, that's sometimes fifty degrees warmer than the air is outside, just a few inches away.
And I'm not sure I'd trade it, even if I could do it without using too much firewood.
I mean, what I really like is getting into my bed at night. The sheets are pretty crappy, they're donated from a hospital or some other institution, and manage to be both stiff and threadbare at the same time (some people bring their own sheets instead), but then there is my patchwork quilt and my two wool blankets, all of which are works of art as well as very warm--I don't own them, they belong to the school, they were made by an ally, a set for every room. It must have taken years. And I can snuggle down into my blankets surrounded by the cold and the dark and I can listen.
I can hear people going to and from the bathrooms at night, toilets flushing, floorboards creaking a little, around and above me. Most of us keep our bedroom doors open in the winter, for warmth, so I can hear if someone coughs or snores or stays up late talking. I don't mean there's a big, noisy racket, just the occasional soft sound. Very occasionally I can hear someone, somewhere, having sex, though fortunately I can never tell who it is. In the dark I can smell wet wool, oil soap, and a jumble of incense, mostly sage, pine, and nag champa--the sounds and scents of the Mansion in winter.
And I go to sleep warm enough.
[Next post: February 20th: Talks and Workshops]