On Grieving Mechanisms: An open letter to the Skidmore Community in response to this weekend’s tragedy

By Eliza Dumais '16

 

It is not always easy to live in a little microcosm of the world. Skidmore, in all of its familiar, enclosed comfort, provides a series of challenges of its own. It requires us to develop certain armor against the sort of Upstate cold that drives its way into our bones and waits there until March comes. It demands that we compose an endless slew of five-to-seven page papers on matters that often feel irrelevant. It assumes that we are comfortable crossing paths most days with a large majority of the people we’ve interacted with thus far in our college careers, whether those interactions have been fortunate or entirely destructive. College comes with its own collection of fears and preoccupations, and it is not hard for those contained concerns to consume us.

At the same time, while we’re here, it is easy to believe that Skidmore is a sheltered vessel from the anxieties and disfigurements of the real world. It is not that we lack a broader awareness necessarily, but sometimes there is an unreality to what goes on beyond the confines of the little collegiate world we belong to. This weekend was a reminder of the unrelenting motion of that world.

I am often terrified of collective displays of grief and I found myself torn about whether or not to attend Monday’s candlelight service. I do not know Toby or Oban personally, and I never had the opportunity to know Michael, so I wasn’t sure I had the right to occupy a seat at the service. I was not sure that I had the authority to carry a little piece of a tragedy that was not my own, and I didn’t want to take away from someone else’s mourning in the interest of my own second-degree sadness.

But the decision to go, for me, was evidence of a version of Skidmore that I had forgotten about. It was a testament to the willingness of students, from all the cornered niches of this campus, to find ways to be together for the sake of something that extends beyond them. Those who went were there for Michael’s friends from home, for Oban’s father, for the students who were most directly shaken by the accident. And in part, they were simply there for each other, serving as a reminder that though our peculiar brand of community sometimes gets tangled up inside all of our disparate Saratogian preoccupations, it still exists.

When he spoke at the service, President Glotzbach acknowledged the senselessness of the whole event - the absolutely inexcusable absurdity of it. He was right -- we do not live in a world where the old should bury the young. This very unbalance, this very rearrangement, is neither justified nor fathomable. How to move forward is neither a simple question nor a singular one.

I don’t believe it is fair to ask that we wake up every day, entirely wrapped up in our own gratitude - I think it is important to sit with sadness, with discomfort. It is okay to be stagnant. And I know for a fact that it is not possible for any of us to live our lives entirely present, perfectly un-wasted.  To do so would be somewhat inhuman.  Death does not always need to be met immediately with an overwhelming affirmation of life.  

I also know that loss is simply a constant, pervasive fact of the real world, and that most deaths do not earn a candlelight vigil - most deaths do not earn even a fraction of what we created on Monday. There are so many lives beyond Skidmore that deserve the attentiveness we’ve paid this one. But for right now, this is what we have. This is a good place to be.

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