Talk of the Quad: Tradition and Ritual
I grew up in the Catholic Church. I went through it all quite unwillingly, of course, but I was raised in it nonetheless. I got a lot of things from the Church and from my Irish Catholic mother, like the ability to recite the Nicene Creed on demand, a strong sense of family and a familiarity-bred hatred for red wine, but prevailing among them is a certain sense of time and ritual.
The Church year is cyclical, turning from Ordinary Time to Advent, from celebration to grief, over and over. There are signposts at which Catholics can nod and say, “I’ve made it to Epiphany, I’m getting through Lent, this too shall pass.” As I was being taught the joy of Easter mass or the solemn anticipation on Christmas Eve, I was also being taught an idea much older than the Catholic Church. The years follow a rhythm, and as we celebrate tradition, we also celebrate how we’ve bettered ourselves (or, sometimes, worsened) as the years have passed. And this is what I’ve retained, even as I’ve left most of the Church’s religious teachings behind.
I spent a lot of the summer thinking about annual cycles. The end of May this year picked up for me nearly exactly where last August left off. I was spending time with the same people, doing the same job, in love with the same man.
Nine months had gone by, but it felt like I had paused the TV and then continued right where I had left off, cycling around again to the beginning of summer. And it’s surreal, to feel like you’re picking up a conversation and that the pause you waited in lasted months. But, even as I loathed the certain sense I felt of never moving on, I could still stare into a backyard fire pit on the Fourth of July and remember so clearly where I was last year when fireworks went off overhead. I knew that things were changing, even against this background of consistent sameness.
There’s this same consistency here on campus, the reassuring ticking over of the wheel of the year, and we similarly look for the subtle alterations to prove that we’ve done something with ourselves over the past 365 days. We like tradition here, surrounded by reminders in the buildings through which we pass that many others have come here before us and lived as we are living. Things follow a course throughout the year, and then we come back in the fall with the uncanny sense that we never left, that nothing has changed in the past three and a half months.
It has to do with being in New England, in part, I think; how many colleges are so imbued with a regional sense of place? Maine has the prototypical seasons: the bonfire falls and heavy snows of winter, the rainy soft springs and the most perfect summers on the East Coast (and I can promise this, as a veteran of 20 years of Mid-Atlantic summers). We take a certain comfort from the inevitability of the changing of the seasons—if nothing else, complaining about the third blizzard in as many days brings people together here to an extent that is the stuff of Orientation icebreakers’ dreams.
I was sitting in the back of the chapel at the opening a cappella concert a few days ago, and I realized it felt like hardly any time had passed at all since I was a first-year sitting in nearly the same place, watching nearly the same show. We have such strong rituals here, such codified traditions that mark the passing of the year and the turning of the seasons. And we use these moments to stop and realize how far we’ve come in the interim, whether we’ve surrounded ourselves with a stronger group of friends (I have), whether we’ve had our heart broken (I have), whether we can rebuild and whether we’ve become a better version of ourselves (I’d like to think I have).
In a few weeks, we’ll hit Epicuria, and we’ll hopefully hit it with all the strength that a year’s worth of wisdom can provide, and then we’ll get through the fall and we’ll break out the Bean Boots. There’ll be campus-wides, and the long-standing divide between Thorne and Moulton will continue. We’ll hit finals and then sleep through a lot of winter break, and then return to the snow. Then it’ll be the Cold War party, and it’ll just be cold, and it’ll blizzard in April. We’ll pretend it’s warm for Ivies, and we’ll regret our choices during reading period, but we’ll grow. And we’ll be back. And we’ll grow and we’ll be back and we’ll grow. And this too, whatever it might be, shall pass.
If you'd like to submit a Talk of the Quad, please contact the Orient.