Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quiet Corridors

I don’t experience the transition to holiday periods as vividly as when I first moved on campus, but I still experience them vividly. One experiences them most vividly in American University’s south-side residence hall complex where I live, populated by more than 1800 students. In Anderson Hall, populated by more than 800 one experiences these transitions most vividly of all.

Anderson Hall shares many attributes with small rural communities, and cohesive urban neighborhoods. At their best, they offer an experience of connectedness that responds, I believe, to a fundamental human need. The disfunctions of such communities, too, are visible and tangible. It is difficult to retreat from experiences of shared friendship, shared love, shared tribulation, shared disfunction, when one lives in close proximity, in a confined space, with 800 or more human beings and sees many of them every day.

Anderson differs in one respect from other close communities. It is impermanent. When I return to Sri Lanka, even after a long absence, it is possible to reintegrate with close communities that have remained relatively stable. The passage of time, human life cycles, and, sadly, the rending experiences of protracted civil war are the principal engines of change. The rural community where my wife lives has similar qualities of stable connectedness, though I rarely spend enough time there to personally experience them, Anderson’s students, however, go home for the holidays. And after one, two, three or four years, they depart permanently. The community is periodically wiped clean, and then regenerates itself.

In the summertime, a process of temporary, transient regeneration is almost instantaneous. Departing students, burdened with a year’s accumulated possessions are jostled by more lightly burdened summer session arrivals. At Thanksgiving time, some students remain. Christmas break is different. Anderson Hall is empty. The windowed cubicles students occupy are vacant. The corridors are quiet. Only dormgrandpop, my neighbor the Resident Director, and her cats remain. I am reminded of a science fiction story than ended with the passage “and no one knew that man was gone.”

When I started writing, this morning, I thought there might be some profound lesson to be drawn from all of this, but it eludes me. I am simply experiencing the silence, reflecting, and relishing the opportunity to begin a new day.

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