By Kelly Reed
Three days ago, I was seriously considering leaving Kenyon. I had made the decision, drafted a farewell letter for the Collegian and then felt as if a gust of fresh air blew through my life and set me back on course. I drove to Glen Hill Orchard, befriended the cashier in the little market and was soon on my way through the apple trees in the first November snow, looking for a place to take photos.
The morning my OCD came back, I was sitting in the third floor of Ascension, tears rolling down my cheeks and dropping onto the wood table at about 7 a.m., before any other students were there. Many important questions raced through my mind: What is that one thing we do that makes life worth living? What is so good, so great, so constant, so challenging, that it would make every little ounce of pain worth it? I was also thinking, What have I neglected to do, that I have reached these questions? It became plain that I must take photos, channeling all that’s in my imagination directly into a living image.
It isn’t Kenyon that I need to let go of, but the fear of a kind of self-expression that could separate my Kenyon experience from others’ even more than it already is. The average Kenyon experience does not include living with an eternally minded perspective. Taking pictures requires being absolutely free of all earthly cares, associations with the world and long-term goals. When you’re behind the lens, it’s raw reality, as if the curtain will unfurl, the candle will be blown out, in the next minute. You’re at the moment of becoming immortal. What separates me from others is the fact that I am now living by a principle that makes all of us important, though not all of us give it due attention. A friend of mine expressed it best: “When we’re talking about the unseen world, it’s hard to make it visible. We are it’s only proof.” My work must be a testimony to the presence of God.
The downside is that Kenyon has never inspired me to be artistic or to expand the experience of confronting raw reality, but has played a serious role in drawing me away from photography. I’ve felt pressure to be an ideal student, to know and love the people of Knox County, to keep my mind ordered and structured hourly so I don’t lose track of what is next on the schedule and to resurrect an older Kenyon. The cord I had so tightly tied to all of these things, or rather to everything temporal, snapped when I saw the magnificence of my spirit in photography and how marred it can sometimes get. Kenyon life should never be like a wild weed that chokes our fragile seed; it should never be the altar where we sacrifice our own basic gifts to become something elite.
I dream of Kenyon having a serious snowstorm or a blackout, literally or figuratively. Then it might turn into an English boarding school like Charlotte Bronte’s Lowood Institution and professors might tell us pilgrims’ tales by the fire, taking us back to the days where the reader was more important than the book, bringing us close to that plane where we grasp the fundamentals. The magnificence of Kenyon is the presence of its founder, just as the magnificence of the Earth is the presence of its Father. Taking photos means letting myself admit that, like C.S. Lewis said, “we are made for another world.” Self-portraiture has the ability to turn a whole campus into one girl’s expression of the spiritual world. This seems unusual, but it’s what the presence of both our college’s founder and Father would desire to see occur.
Peace is what I felt, standing in front of Philander Chase’s book collection and household plates in the Archives before I left for the orchard, when I still thought I would transfer. Kenyon is far more Godful than most realize. The real challenge is this: to be children here not because we like childishness but because there is a Father by whom we are called child. The scope of my dilemma is beyond the question of transferring or not. It’s a matter of belief. I choose to believe that Kenyon’s spiritual quality is constantly breaking through the density of its godless social atmosphere. And I am insisting that I live here so as to prove it.
Kelly Reed ’16 is an English major from Potomac, Md. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.