09 May 2006

Unless I visit...

I never have to come back.

I realized that in chapel today and smiled hard.

But Mitchell classes are a different story. This is my last time in this room with the desks circled and Dr. Mitchell sipping from his tall steel thermos, Matt and Zach and Tim and David snickering knowingly, Samantha's tilted chin and articulate remarks, Nathan squinting over the pages, Katie scowling at her margin notes to understand and the low fluorescent lights, the dull steady hum of the tempermental AC, and the way that the day, cold or sunny or rainy, seems to creep into the windowless classroom, on our coats or in our hair or in the way we hold ourselves in our seats. It's grey and rainy today and we're all in turtlenecks, cords, rain slickers, things we probably piled away in the attic last week when it was hot and had to dig out yesterday morning when it got cold again.

Of all the places on this campus, this is one that I would come back to, take people to. As long as Dr. Mitchell is the professor in it, because it is here, with the desks in this formation, first in Philosophy, then in Modernity, Post-modernity, and Society, now in Conservative Political Thought, that I have gained the most. Time doesn't change in this room. All the books we've ever read are open here--poems by Elliot and stories by Camus and the philosophies of Nietzche and Kierkegaard and Aristotle. I took a few weeks out this semester to finish my fiction class. I didn't come to any Mitchell classes last semester. But I am back now and here it is. Different but not. Grounding me for the greater upheaval. These classes have singularly made this education worthwhile and coupled with Freedom's Foundations, persuaded me that there was some merit in staying at this school at all.

We are reading Wendel Berry today and talking about community and bedtime stories and sex. I'm not even taking this class, but I've done most of the readings, highlighted my books, taken notes far more than for any other class this semester. This is the impressive class that the media doesn't talk about when they profile us.

I remember two years ago when the New York Times article came out and I was furious because the journalist had sat in on our Modernity class, listened to us, and told Dr. Mitchell that our discussion was on the same level as his grad school seminars at Yale. But he didn't say a word about us when he wrote about the school. Instead, he took pictures of the awkward couples and wrote about the most absurd rules that we had, and talked about the fanatics. I was furious when the article came out, read it at midnight when it was first posted on line, went raging around the dorm over it. But I have since come to realize, slowly, that these classes are almost best-kept-secrets around here. In this basement classroom, and the people in it, who have kept me sane all these years—but especially this one—are the exception to most of my school. And whole time our college president stood in front of chapel today all I could think of was this and I didn't want to smile or clap for him. And I realize that pretty soon I won't have to even see him or think about him if I don't want to.

But I wonder how next year will be for the Juniors and the Sophomores and the Freshmen who stay here. And for Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Sillars who are the only remaining sane professors. They will be so alone on the faculty in their back-room offices in separate buildings.

I try to explain this desire for distance to my mom. The desperation for distinction from other products of my background and even from my faith. I am not ashamed of my education or of Christianity, but I am deeply saddened by what people who share my upbringing and my religion have done and stand for. But I'm not ashamed of this classroom, or the people in it. And I am not ashamed of Christ, and who He would have me become.

Even so, it is going to take me a little time, a little space, after graduation before I find much confidence in the context that has formed who I am.


Sarah said...

last philosophy class was today. i knew that something excellent was ending and that it had gone by way too fast. but i was too tired from writing a paper for the class to really appreciate it.

thanks for proofing the paper SO MUCH.

Matt Zehnder said...

Hannah, this made me cry. Thank you so much for writing this. I copied it onto my computer and I will read it every day next yesr; I think that will get me through.

aesthetic realist said...

hmmm...and wordlessness follows...for I am not yet done. thank you.

The Wileyman said...

Good post... one of my regrets about my time at PHC is never taking a Mitchell class.