A Yale moment, 35 million miles away

By the end of the first week of a year that has begun anything but typically, we found ourselves needing a reminder of what Yale is like when it is just plain old Yale, not an epic struggle of blue collars against blue bloods, as some are calling this strike, or a public relations traffic jam of election-year proportions. By Friday, regardless of our individual feelings about contract negotiations, we all were wanting for a little of what no one outside this University understands about life inside it — a little unselfconscious intellectual frenzy, maybe even a moment of pure and unabashed nerdiness.

It was too early for the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween show, though, and therefore too early to get drunk and dressed up and listen to classical music on a school night. And it was much too soon for reading week, unfortunately, and so it was too soon to get drunk and undressed and to run naked through a jam-packed Sterling Memorial Library. But just when we thought the Yale bubble that we at once revile and cherish had irreparably burst for the duration of September, then came Mars, as close to us as it has been in 60,000 years.

There have been other glimpses of plain old Yale, but all seemed somehow incomplete — less organic, more contrived. Dining halls opened last night, for example, for the first residential college dinner of the year. But some of the most familiar faces were missing. No one was smiling and swiping key cards. No one was sauteing Pangeos and making small talk. The most popular classes, too, the Gaddis lectures and Bloom seminars, were as crowded as ever. But somehow, surrounded by picket lines, they were less the places to see and be seen than in past years.

Then on Friday, we received three administrative e-mails in rapid succession: two standard notes about the strike and then a third, surprisingly, inviting everyone to come out this weekend and have a look up.

Out came the telescopes on Saturday and Sunday nights, and along with them, the Astronomy Department with boxes of Milky Way and Starburst candies and lines that snaked alongside Berkeley College and made circles around Cross Campus. After God Quad, before Toad’s, or as the evening’s main event, hundreds of students waited upwards of two hours to see the red planet, pin-sized and white to the naked eye but quarter-sized and amber-hued through one of the university’s high-powered telescopes. It was a disappointing sight for some, but the scene itself is worthy of note.

It is the kind of night that would likely baffle virtually any other person in any other place. It was one of those moments that make people shake their heads and think, “Only here.” It was the Yale instinct, in all its masking-taped-glasses glory, reasserting itself in this most divisive of times and in the most unlikely of places — around 35 million miles above New Haven, glowing in the southern sky.

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