It seems that I am not immune to the uninspired torpor that descends upon folks here in the midst of February, despite my fondness for winter. Yesterday, after a few moments spent in quiet visual exchange with an empty document where my Collegian article ought to have been, I decided that the only remedy for my doldrums was a long holiday. Accordingly, I donned my jacket and set out upon an eastbound road, into the countryside.
After much travel in the snow, I came into a land which seemed curiously familiar, just magical enough to elude recollection. Upon a distant hill were a series of stone fortifications, many tremendous spires, and a proud tower; a passerby told me that this was of course Gambier College and the village of Kenyon, a place of arcane and high learning.
A fierce Fimbulwinter had enveloped the academy, and all were done up in mufflers and great overcoats. But the village seemed warm: there was a book-monger, a pub with a counter of refulgent copper, an intimate coffeehouse and a grocer of quality stock. The scholars walked about, complex thoughts in their heads and simple joys in their eyes — save for one fellow who seemed to me rather glum.
“Come now, friend,” I began amiably. “Whatever could trouble you in this idyll?”
He turned to me and tugged at his collar. “We are familiar with two different colleges, I am afraid. You seem to see what I first saw, when I came here. But there are people here, you would see in time, whose wealth blinds them; whose fortunate race numbs them; whose ignorance tames them; whose mundanity tires them; whose prejudice handicaps them. Sometimes it seems as though I do not belong here.”
“A haughty thought,” I chided. “Why, the whole place looks as though it were built and inhabited by men who had your disappointment but denied it a second thought. Your discouragement is not only vanity but defeatism. I see want for nothing, for no one makes you be like the men you have supposedly described.”
“But they are here, nonetheless.”
“I do not doubt their presence. But I cannot deny that their opposites are here as well — the place is too magical. You make a grave error if you forget them in remembrance of the few people who deserve being forgotten. Not only are you beggared of joy but of effectiveness. I look all about me and see many actively pursuing the ideal they have in their heart, because they know they are right. And in doing so, they make this the Ken – er, Gambier College which they had envisioned when they first came.” The fellow sighed.
“But do you think there were better years in this place’s past, when we did not have to try and make it what we had envisioned?”
“I assure you, there are never such years. But the years spent thinking as such are never envied by future ages. I beg you, do not be discouraged. Only look about you and see that many others are working towards grand ends, and it is within you to do so as well. The invitation is never to come to a perfect Hill; it was to come to a Hill that all of us might yet perfect.”
We talked for a few hours more, and at last shook hands beneath mountain-clouds of winter that burst and broke in cascades of snow, releasing folds of pale sunlight like molten steel. As I walked back in the sunset I wondered if he had ever visited Kenyon, and if he had on one of my discouraged days whether our roles would have been reversed.
But he has no doubt joined Philander Chase and many of you in finding a Hill and saying not “well, this is done,” but the far more potent “well, this will do.”
Matthew Eley ’15, of Howard, Ohio, is an English major with an IPHS concentration. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.