The Summer Man

Whoever called Economics “the dismal science” clearly didn’t follow politics.  The amount of time I spend tracking the ebb and flow of political victories in this country tends to produce an unhealthy amount of cynicism.  I want to write about something different this week, for a change; I’m sure you have all heard about Herman Cain and Rick Perry making fools of themselves many times over.  As I packed to head back to Middlebury this fall, I realized I had a problem.  It’s one that we don’t often talk about here, but I know I’m not the only one to feel this way.

My problem was that I wasn’t the least bit excited to come back.  For me, fall was always the most miserable time of the year.  It meant a return to work and a time to leave loved ones behind.  It meant that every day was colder and darker than the last.  It meant that the leaves that add life to campus would turn brown and crumple to the ground.  At Middlebury, it’s impossible to separate the weather from the experience; I doubt I’m the only person here with an obsession for the ten-day forecast.

As the last days of summer faded away, I rebelled against my packing schedule.  The night everything should have been loaded into my car, I sat in bed and read my favorite childhood book—Ender’s Game—from cover to cover for the sixth or seventh time as my belongings lay in unorganized heaps across my carpet.

Needless to say, I knew that I had to do something different this semester.  So I joined the Sailing team.  I’d never sailed competitively, but choosing an activity so dependent on the weather forced me to get over my deeply-entrenched hatred of the fall.  On sunny afternoons I’d look up from the waters of Lake Dunmore and appreciate, for the first time in my life, the beautiful phenomenon of leaves dying off for the year.  On cloudy afternoons I’d fight the wind and rain and spitting snow with the same savage glee as Jack Sparrow or Jack Aubrey.  I’ve never felt more alive than on those long afternoons.

I have more work than I can ever finish, but that just makes me a typical Middlebury student.  Between columns, jobs, majors, practice, and extracurriculars it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and far too easy to forget to appreciate this incredible place.

In part, we’re here for the work, for the lectures, and for the readings.  But that’s not the whole picture, and in this internet age it’s far too easy to isolate yourself, and too easy to forget the best parts about this place: the people, the opportunities, and the scenery.  The work here may seem difficult and never-ending, but that’ll hardly change after graduation.  It’s too easy to define your life in countdowns: four days until the weekend; two weeks until break; three years until graduation; sixty years until death.  See what I did there?  Go for a hike—this afternoon, not this weekend.  Read a spy novel.  Start a conversation with a stranger, or a group of strangers.  So maybe a course reading won’t get done here and there; I’ve learned more about the politics of Israel from my friends than I ever would have from my digital pile of unopened PDF files on the topic.  If we can’t find balance and happiness now, will we find them in a cubicle instead?

It’s become too easy to be cynical.  The world, our politicians tell us, is falling apart.  They disagree only on the cause.  Yet, as I talk to my peers, there is so much cause for optimism.  When else in the history of humanity has so much idealism been possible?  The fact that I write this column every other week on a computer with five hours of battery and unlimited access to the collected knowledge of humanity is a miracle that past generations of students would have killed for.  The range of friends, family, and alumni that can read this electronically is equally impressive.  Fall is almost over; it’s already dark as I write this at four in the afternoon.  But that means two things: ski season and the Iowa caucuses are almost upon us.  My obligatory political analysis for the week: barring a massive scandal, Mitt Romney will be the nominee.  Now go outside and look at the mountains.  Take a deep breath.  Winter is coming, and it’s going to be awesome.