By Julia Harrison
I feel displaced, as many of us do, texting dramatic monologues to one another from home or carpeted apartments, from cracked Adirondack chairs moping in the air of our stunted spring, or the raw homes our parents bought while we were away, where a fugly picture of us rests on the mantle. I think we are all beginning to realize we no longer know a place so well as the one we just left, that Sewanee was sneaky about the way it became more home to us than home was, or is. And simultaneously, we are under deliberate instruction to avoid our friends, most of whom we will never see so conveniently again, and I, for one, just had to throw out half a bottle of perfectly good gin in panicked, teeth-pulling exodus from pandemic.
The only way I can think of handling it, and quarantine gives ample time, is to scribble furiously, perhaps desperately, the way that you love or did love, or have meant to love Sewanee and all its strangers and places that became someones to you, to say 1,000 times that you are grateful.
Ex: the Perimeter trail in late September, reverent green of early fall, wide views of Cowan fringed by pine, deep caves into dark and welcoming earth, glittering of the valley from Greensview at night, watching sun rise from expectant dark at Beckwith’s. Watermelon on the dock at Dimmick, some of the worst beer I’ve ever had, spit-feeding fish, canoe on soft water, paddle choked in lily pads. For an evening, or maybe a few, that I really fell in love with someone for who they were. And it wasn’t always painstaking or dramatic—it was momentarily astrological, a romantic interruption of the usual and clerical.
Things felt big for a moment before they felt small again for a while after that. For my very best friends, for being loved so hard, for the freedom of an afternoon, the troubling frequency of public nudity, the certainty that no evening out would ever be quite normal, for the relentless playing of that one goddamn LCD Soundsystem song, for breakfast potatoes. For, perhaps most importantly, the way that life could feel and sound like summer for so long, even through the fog.
For many of us, these years were the first time we envisioned and lived in a collective good, wanted to carry it forward, wanted to do it ourselves. And it was not always in movements of social justice or accountability or socially conscious investment, though these were executed in remarkable examples by our class, but it was sometimes as small as Bud Lights on the dock, sometimes two dark roasts on the porch of Stirling’s. Christ, it was sometimes Frafting. It was, anyway, always a good crafted from a moment of deliberate peace between ourselves, our hands open.
Part of our heartache is certainly our awareness of what follows: our life has just become our mess. This is, particularly now, certainly and harshly true. It has very distinctly just become our responsibility to stop leaving our shit all over the place and start cleaning things up for ourselves and, where we can, for others. Life will not be so young again as it was in Sewanee, never so turbulent, that kind of wonderful and undiscovered, but it will be something else, something good also, something bigger, braver. And be reassured that what is in Sewanee will stay with all those that pass through its plateau and hovering peace, in good and hopeful hands. For now, I think—remember, write your love notes, eat well, be well.
This is lovely, Julia. I’m thankful for the technology that allows the Purple to keep publishing, and I’m proud of you and all our seniors.
Thank you for sharing this. I have a student in school, and although he stayed in his apartment, it is still a jarring dislocation. It’s been 31 years, but I remember the feelings of the last semester of school which seemed to come too soon, even without a catastrophe like this. My best wishes to you and students everywhere as you nest in your new/old perches.
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