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Friday, Jan 21, 2022

A Middlebury Christmas Carol

I’ve always loved the holidays. For me, there was nothing better than driving to Keystone Lake with my family every December. As soon as we parked the car, I would run, cheeks flushed and heart pounding, down to the lake frozen over with the kiss of magical mountain fairy dust (okay, fine, snow). I’d strap on my skates as quickly as I could and make my way out onto the ice. I was in my favorite place, on my favorite day of the year, with my favorite people in the whole world. I never felt more content than I did in those moments gliding around that lit up pine tree, mountains rising with a hazy glow in the background, familiar tunes wafting from the lodge nearby.

Confession: I’m Jewish. So… Christmas doesn’t mean the same thing for me as it does for someone who celebrates it. But still, that day always promised three things to me: time spent with family, seeing happy strangers, and feeling loved and warm and all the things you should feel around the holidays. One of my favorite traditions was watching “A Christmas Carol.” You know, the Jim Carrey version? Scrooge was certainly not a favorite in my household, and people often invoked him when telling you to do things you didn’t want to do: “You don’t want to stay at the dinner table? Quit being such a Scrooge!”

I was, however, entranced with the idea of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future. As a seven-year-old, the deeper meaning of those three figures didn’t really mean a lot to me. I think I understood the concept of time but, then again, that hour and a half car ride up to Keystone always felt like ten hours (“Mama, are we there yet?”). It wasn’t until recently that I began thinking about what those three figures could mean for us here at Middlebury in our past, in our present and in our futures.

The Ghost of Christmas Past gleams like the flame from a candle, glowing from the inside out. Once you see him better, he’s one of the Middlebury street lamps, coming to light the way, giving us a glimpse into Middlebury pre-Covid-19. Ah, yes. Here we are. You take his hand and into a tunnel of light you go, descending rapidly until you land in what looks like a… dirty narrow room? No, that can’t be right. This is our past?

The floors and walls are sticky with beer and sweat, the one couch is populated by girls dancing to the beat of loud music, the single poster hanging from the wall reads “SATURDAYS ARE FOR THE BOYS.” Atwater...? Of course, how could we forget. You see yourself there, pushed up against the back of the wall in the most crowded room you can imagine, scanning the crowd for someone to catch your eye and make their way over to you. You’re shoulder to shoulder, then hand to hand, then mouth to mouth… all one bundle of heat and energy and closeness. But still, you feel alone. You’d rather be with the people you know and love — anywhere but here. You look trapped. You don’t like feeling like you’re in a crowd of people searching for someone to go home with. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes your hand, and you’re transported through the tunnel of light.

The Ghost of Christmas Present greets you with joy. Clad in green robes and mistletoe, this figure smiles and laughs as he takes you to a hallway you recognize well. You see the common room, and in it you see yourself sitting in a circle with your friends, sharing a bottle of wine and laughing as the evening wears on into morning. He gestures, eyes glinting as if he knows something you don’t. And he does know something you don’t. He is showing you the love and warmth you have right there. You watch yourself tell stories, jokes and show your friends stupid memes and begin to see the world the way he sees it: as a gift. You look happy. But of course, that’s a freeze-frame. One present moment in that room neglects the books stacked on your desk, and the photos of your family hanging on your wall, and you realize that the present moment is a conglomeration of the bustle of life right before finals, a reminder that you are returning home, and a rush to spend time with those people, your friends at Midd that you love so dearly. You wish you could stay here forever.

But still, the oars of life beat on. A faceless figure appears. Dark robes cloak the mysterious and terrifying monster before you. Inside looks empty, hollow, absent. You breathe in sharply. They take their staff and show you the way. JUST KIDDING! Nothing spooky here. You see your future, and it’s surely more hopeful than this ominous creature made you believe. You see yourself returning for J-Term, studying something you’re passionate about, maybe skiing or getting in serious snowball fights or continuing those relationships you left off on. Or maybe you’re like me, and you see a foreign city on the horizon, just now peeking its head out of the snow as study abroad approaches. The future shines with a promise for new loves, for new beginnings and for second chances. There’s always something there for you, and it beckons you to greet it with an open mind.

In the spirit of the holidays and A Middlebury Christmas Carol, it’s time to reflect on our lives here at Middlebury, look more closely at our present and find points of light in our futures. If Tiny Tim were here, he would say “President Patton bless us, every one!”