MEDANSKY: When Yale ends

Little Fables

Sometimes I wonder what will happen when Yale ends. Not what will happen after graduation — that I can more or less envision — but what will become of this place in its final hours. When the ground starts to rumble and the scent of smoke fills the air. When the great maw underneath us opens wide and swallows Commons whole. When the bells no longer ring.

I won’t be around for that. Right now I’ve existed some 21-odd years — and God willing I’ll exist for a good half-century more — but eventually my body will fail. One day, I will end. Biology is a harsh mistress, among other unprintable words.

This bums me out. It’s comfortable here — at Yale, on earth. Existence is nice. I just want more time to do everything.

But nothing lasts forever. Magazines with 100-year histories fold; empires that once spanned continents succumb to corruption and runaway inflation. Schools go, too. According to researchers at Vanderbilt University, dozens of colleges have closed over the past decade — 57 total between 2004 and 2013.

Yale will join that list someday. There is a spot for us, between Radcliffe College and Burma-Shave, in the pantheon of things no longer here.

Our human kind of death is inevitable and imminent. We have accidents and illnesses and unforeseeable circumstances, but we more or less know the amount of time we have here, and that never feels like enough. Institutions, on the other hand, benefit from a lot of inertia: Their mortality is never a pressing concern. Sure, there are crises of funding and scandals of mismanagement that can serve as fatal blows, but untarnished, these things can last a long time. Yale has already existed for 312 years; comparatively, its roots in this universe are deep.

In the 1980s, while working at Cornell, Carl Sagan lived with his family in a building that had previously belonged to a secret society. The old Sphinx Head tomb, in its previous life, had housed meetings and initiation rites. Then Sagan moved in, adding a kitchen and filling its rooms with his papers and effects. Now, the house is vacant, waiting for its next intended purpose. Or perhaps for its eventual, inevitable demise.

There’s a beauty in the finality of everything, I guess. Carl Sagan believed this. Rather than hope for an afterlife, Sagan urged us to “look death in the eye,” to be “grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” We’re all “star stuff,” as he was known for saying: lucky to be alive.

Still, I wish I could witness the end of Yale, if only from above. I’d first watch as some grand apocalypse on earth concluded this great era of humanity. Decades later a band of survivors would stumble upon this place, dusty and tired and hungry. I’d watch as they built shelters on Old Campus and bonfires in the Woolsey rotunda. They’d grow crops in the courtyards, fill the society tombs with their papers and effects. Remake our world in their image, ignorant of any previous meaning.

I want to tell them that this place they’ve found here is called Yale. We loved it there. We waited all winter for the snow to thaw and then read on Cross Campus when the sun came. We went to our seminars and skipped our lectures and made some friends and enemies. We read books and drank beers and were lucky to be alive. We had so much fun here.

But then I remember they’ll be gone soon anyway, just as we had left before. This time, I do not want to disturb them.

Marissa Medansky is a junior in Morse College and a former opinion editor for the News. Her columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact her at marissa.medansky@yale.edu .

 

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