Early-morning rowers push boats along the water; bleary grad students erase graphs; adult New Haveners catch buses to work.
But Silliman College is quiet in the early morning. The sun shines on a cool courtyard. Georgian brick blocks downtown, rival Timothy Dwight and Science Hill. A Gothic castle protects us from the commerce of College Street. The breeze comes through the gate. The sun comes up behind Chase Bank, casting my long shadow in front of me as I walk out the College Street gate. A student whistles. A flower blooms. Old stones sit in approving silence.
These are light-hearted days. We suffer through midterms, but midterms are always more difficult to take seriously when students are in flip-flops and t-shirts than when the last leaf is twisting in the cruel wind, about to die. Things are alive now — at least on our campus. The “real world” gloom is quite real, no scare quotes needed, and neither flowers nor whistling will change that. Maybe our leaders can. Maybe we will. But for now, we can take solace in smaller things.
A few days ago we heard: “Pitchers and catchers report.”
Those of you ignorant of baseball (you probably don’t know the words to Bright College Years and hate apple pie) should know that this four-word news item — pitchers and catchers report — means that Spring Training has officially started. The battery mates need a few extra days in Arizona and Florida to stretch out their arms and work off their winters of steak and beer.
Here on campus, spring athletes have begun practicing, too. Walking to play catch myself, I can’t help but recall a poem I memorized as a child. I don’t know who wrote it. The author — who will write to claim his poetry, I hope — will forgive any errors of my memory:
“The time has come to hear again the happiest words in sport
“Not ‘Touchdown!’ ‘Home Run!’ ‘Goal!’ or ‘Score!’
“But ‘Pitchers and Catchers Report’
“ ‘Pitchers and Catchers Report’: such news! Concise, flat, stark and grand.”
It means the game is afoot again, alive once more in the land
Spring Training, says the poet, “won’t fill the bellies of the kids who have lost their relief” nor “soften the heart of the thief” (the rhyme scheme helps). True. But a good game of catch sure helps a Yalie. We surround ourselves with experts on thief-heart-softening, and various campus groups are even now trying to feed the children who have lost their relief. Good for them. But good also that we who have full bellies will enjoy America’s Pastime soon enough.
That is the promise of spring, after all, isn’t it? Spring promises that summer is coming. And summer promises possibilities: of a new love, of a new job, of a new Cubs ownership. They’re all lies: It’s the same kids from last year, no job is fun when China owns so much of our debt, and God wants the Cubs to suffer as a permanent witness to seven-year-old Chicagoan boys and girls about the sin of pride. Perhaps that’s why T. S. Eliot, a man about whom there is much evil to say, had this good line: “April is the cruelest month.”
Eliot is not the only poet of springtime, and not only poets have used and overused the impulse of young men in spring. Spring in my family means not only baseball but also Passover, the great Jewish Springtime festival.
One year when I was a teenager, our host for a holiday meal looked directly at me and said, “I know what young men think about in months like these. I know why their hearts beat a little more quickly.” How embarrassing! I am sweating just writing it. “Therefore,” he continued, “I have a surprise.” No one was more surprised than me when he sang the opening prayer of the traditional meal to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” A saint, that man.
Whether Eliot is right or wrong, today is February, not April, even in this changed climate. Now we only have the promise of a promise, the hint of a hint of summer, the first flip-flops and smiles and reminders that there is a life outside of midterms. My fellow seniors and I are in the spring of our Yale careers: Soon school will be out for summer, forever. And that summer holds many different promises.
Perhaps I write too soon. It’s still winter. Our hockey teams are fighting through their final home games; our senior essays must be written long before the school bell rings a final time. But if you are reading this over an early breakfast, put down the paper and join me in Silliman’s courtyard. See if you can’t hear, in the quiet rays of sunshine, God saying, “For me, for country and for Yale. But mostly for Yale.”
Michael Pomeranz is a senior in Silliman College.