MC Thomas is Haunting me.
To stay or not to stay? I’ve been thinking a lot about where I want to sit to observe. This past weekend, when I was reading about Bryn Mawr from a book by Helen Horowitz, I was really struck by a chapter she had about tradition and the campus, where she talked about the way women related to their physical campus because of the traditions they had in different spaces on that campus. The more I thought about it, I liked the idea of doing a series of posts about a couple different physical places on campus outside that related either to my collective or individual memories of traditions at Bryn Mawr. I wanted to see how traditions and memory made a difference in the place you observe. For this particular post, I chose the cloisters.
While at first, I tried to stay still while I observed, but there was something unnerving about the stillness of the cloisters. I kept coming back to the various memories I had which involved movement, especially in darkness. Even in daylight, the times I had spent in the cloisters where full of movement, of people and their voices. But now, it was entirely still. Even the grass, which was perfectly manicured, was unmoved by the wind. The cloister walls prevented any real wind from interfering with the space. I couldn’t decide whether I was outside or inside. There was still grass, but it was unlike any other grassy area on campus, which was generally uneven and interrupted. I could still see the sky, but only within the limited square frame, shaped by the cloister walls, almost like a window. It was disorienting and calming at the same time; time also stood still. Finally, I got up and moved around. As I walked I noticed physical absences, remnants of something now lost. I read each engraving, which were each generally dedicated to someone who had died. Parts of the words on some of these had become unreadable through time, worn out. The engravings themselves served as markers of an absence. Some parts of the stone were riddled with pockmarks where ivy once clung to the walls. I thought about man verses nature, and our efforts to control nature. Almost unnoticeable were spider webs forming in the spaces between stones. I also spotted left over paint from a paint fight that took place on parade night. It must have been missed by the clean up crew of students who determinedly scoured the place the next morning. I thought about what it means to know where that paint came from, to have a different knowledge of a place than what is currently presented. As I walked around I saw stone that had been built into the walkway, engraved with M. Carey Thomas’s initials, birthdate and deathdate, and remembered reading somewhere that she had been cremated and buried in the cloisters. I thought of all the times I stood on the grass, unaware that somewhere, M. Carey Thomas was buried. The thought was both impressive and creepy. It was impressive because even after she died, she still managed to physically place herself on the college grounds, to forever be part of what she helped to created. It was creepy because I had to consider that all the times I had been in the cloisters, M. Carey Thomas had been there too. Almost immediately after I had that thought, the lights directly above her stone engraving flashed on, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. Even though I knew there was most likely a perfectly reasonable explanation for why the lights had turned on and none of the other lights had; I grabbed my bag, ran out of the cloisters and didn’t look back.