Hurricane Sandy has arrived. People along the Eastern Seaboard are hoarding water. Governments and schools are shutting down. In a lovely throwback to the last century, I saw a young couple at Rite Aid yesterday actually buying candles, lest the storm knock out their battery supply as well as the city’s electrical grid.
And at Yale, today’s classes have been cancelled, effectively extending Yale’s debut fall break another day.
Yale hasn’t had a snow day since 1978. Even then, in a blizzard featuring more than two feet of snow and winds that could give Sandy a run for her money, classes were cancelled on Governor Ella T. Grasso’s order, not any Yale administrator’s.
I used to have this theory about Yale: The University didn’t acknowledge the existence of calendars or weather. Time, national holidays, physical danger — none of these things mattered to the stalwart force of Yale.
We didn’t observe national holidays — save Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Classes aren’t of uniform length, and they don’t start at normal times like 11:30; no, for whatever reason, we’ll take the 11:35 start, please.
The last time Yale sent its students home was during the American Revolution.
The University stood above all external influences, I thought. It was a true haven of learning, a place where we could take ourselves just a bit too seriously, where we could proudly know that we stopped for nothing.
Snow could come, and we’d trudge through it to class, maybe throwing a snowball along the way.
Men from across the world could fly airplanes into a national landmark just 80 miles down the highway, and we’d soldier on, mourning and debating and wondering together but keeping our minds on Kant or calculus all the while. Kant and calculus, you see, aren’t affected by terrorists or hurricanes.
But that fierce — perhaps even blind — confidence is fading away. This year, Yale discovered not only the existence of national holidays but also the concept of fall break. And now there’s some rain and wind, and the University is telling us to stay home, forget about our studies and just — please, kids — be careful.
Yes, I appreciate the extra day to sleep in and the extra hours to work on my senior essay, but I see fear creeping into our castles.
It’s reasonable to be afraid of a storm that might knock down trees, flood the streets or even kill civilians. There are a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of living in castles.
But we do have the luxuries of Yale’s housing and closely clustered buildings. That’s one of the things Yale gives us: the chance to devote ourselves to our studies and extracurricular occupations even when every external force is screaming for us to take a break and huddle up.
It’s reasonable to be afraid, but it’s equally reasonable — and much healthier — to see the storm coming and be excited. Stuck inside all day? Movies! Winds that can knock you off your feet? Sounds like an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss.
Ten years ago, I saw fear’s power to sap life. The D.C. metropolitan area was struck by snipers who killed people on the street at random. No one went outside except to run from a building to a car. Recess was held indoors. Little League games were cancelled. If the police had caught the killers a few days later than they did, we might have seen the king of all ironies: Halloween defeated by crippling fear.
Today, we live in a world choked by fear. It’s everywhere. We’re afraid that the man across the street is a rapist. We tread lightly with our jokes for fear of being condemned for political incorrectness. We’re genuinely concerned that the country could not survive a Mitt Romney administration.
Fear is not a thing to be proud of. It works slowly but powerfully to crush spirits. Deprived of the things we love in life — the sheer joy of each day — we turn sour and sullen. When we are infected by fear, we see the world as an enemy, and soon enough we begin to see each other as enemies, too.
What unites us and uplifts us, on the other hand, is our power to celebrate and explore when the natural reaction is fear. The world may send us hurricanes, snipers, snowstorms or war, but there’s no bolder response than to push ahead, to meet the storm with equal gusto rather than to shrink away.
Turn each threat into an adventure, and nothing can stop you. That’s what Yale has been doing for three centuries, and, even if our University has abandoned the task, it’s what we should all be doing.
So I’ll be outside today, dodging flying branches and trying to stay on my feet. I hope you’ll join me.
Julia Fisher is a senior in Berkeley College and a former opinion editor of the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.