Go gently into that good night: Daydreams

Posted by Rick Chrisman

Dear students,

I see you on the way to classes, I see you coming out of the Dining Hall, I see you laughing with friends, I see your faces sometimes a little vacant, sometimes crestfallen, often thoughtful, mostly lively. I see you and I say to myself, You are paragons. Yes, paragons. Every student, each and everyone of you, are paragons, I say!

Paragon — a model of excellence and perfection — Webster's Third. Well, maybe you are not total excellence and perfection—yet. More like potential excellence. You are, let us say, buds of pure potentiality, hard on the heels of excellence and perfection, as good as gold yet to be burnished. You certainly have the look of it to me, the look of a great capacity, a great destiny and the look of pursuing it intently, not about to let it escape you.

And why not, after all? You landed here triumphant from your schools, flags flying, admitted to this prestigious college (and probably many others for that matter) and acknowledged for strengths that you have earnestly cultivated, strengths for which your families and friends and teachers and supporters have cheered you.

Now, for a change, you have some real scope and you can finally accelerate without impediments or deterrents of any kind. You find yourselves exhilarating in the full flush of all the great things that the human mind and body are capable of doing and feeling.

So far, I have only reported what I see of you in the daytime, which is the only time I see you — or you me. But there is also another world to be explored and discovered, namely, the Night, where an entirely other education is to be had. Yes, thank goodness for the Night! It provides respite from the exactions of the sunlit world, respite from the intellectual sun's exposure of our weaknesses. Fortunately, the moon rules the Night, when the normal rules don't apply and our daydreams of love have sway.

Except for a big problem: Day inhibits Night's call. It seems to take some kind of kick to rid ourselves of the Day's over-regimentation, especially, I think, for students because you live where you work (who else in society has to cope with that?). Your rationale is that, because you work hard in the daytime, the antidote is to play hard at night. Nothing new about that. It's been that way since the neighbors of medieval Heidelberg University complained about mobs of drunken students careening down the village streets.

But how did we wind up with 11 students hospitalized on the night of the Moorebid Ball? It's one thing for people to try to annihilate Reason's glare, but to annihilate one's whole self (and one's living environment in the bargain)? Maybe Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest and wine and festivity, was paying some of you back for two-timing him with Four Loko!

Or was Moorebid a collective reenactment of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I certainly accept that youth is wholly experimental, but, clearly, love is to be found only within and not outside of our mortal bounds. Jekyll didn't survive his experiments, you remember. Was his such a desirable fate?

The way I see it, you are paragons, and I hope you know it. What you don't know yet is just what you are paragons of! Maybe that makes you nervous. But the answer is coming. In the meantime, you are in flight, aloft, flung toward the excellences and perfections of truth and love.

Rick Chrisman is director of Religious and Spiritual Life, teaches occasionally in the Religion and Philosophy departments and suspects art is the one true religion.

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