I’ve called these places soul corners in the past, the pockets where energy coalesces in a particular way to reveal something of a community’s heartbeat, its delight, its potential. They are not often manicured spaces, prim and dolled up. They have an aura of work surrounding them, of student effort expended and adults guiding. Slocumb is one of those spaces. The tech lab, the woodshop, the machine shop, the forge - all soul spaces. So, too, is the Norris Theater with its paneling, the wooden beams that hold up the grid, the scene shop. It’s one of those spaces that invites lingering. It’s calming and energizing. It’s a place of music, of singing, of acting and set magic, of students making birthday announcements and game recaps. It’s a place of laughter and sometimes somber talks. It’s one of those places that makes Proctor…well, Proctor.
This one starts with baseball. Again, baseball. I missed the end innings of the Red Sox as they eventually won Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles 2-1, but I caught the replays Thursday morning. I saw the catch Jackie Bradley Jr. made, robbing Trey Mancini of a homerun in the bottom of the 11th by scaling a wall and reaching over into the bullpen to make a spectacular backhanded catch.
It happens all the time. I am walking from my house to the office, maybe one of the shortest commutes in New England, and in the brief stroll from house to Maxwell Savage, inevitably there are scraps of litter, refuse tossed up on asphalt shore lines from the window of a passing car. The rolling, casual wave of a hand (that I never see) leaves behind beer cans, cigarette stubs, water bottles, candy wrappers, plastic bags. The colored bits of trash sprout like a 21st century algae bloom amidst Route 11’s shoulder grit. Wasn’t there yesterday, but there today.
Last evening I watched the late innings of a baseball game against St. Paul’s School. It was a tight one, the score see-sawing back and forth. We’re up, they’re up, then we’re catching up. The sun cut shadow from trees to the west, the outfield was a deep green, the chatter of the benches (and some rowdy fans from Carr House) peppered the evening. I could lean against the white fence near the right field foul pole, my favorite spot on a perfect evening. I could lean against that fence on evenings like that - baseball, no bugs, no wind, warm enough for just a light fleece - for hours.
It’s a good time of year to re-read the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps In Mud Time. You know the one. The narrator splitting wood in his yard, the blocks of straight grained beech falling “spinterless as a cloven rock.” The tramps walk by, not too long from having spent time in a logger’s camp, having slept who knows where, and they squint and measure the man by the way he wields the axe. You know the poem.
Over the past couple of weeks several students received their second “major” violation, resulting in dismissal from school. It’s been disruptive. Disruptive for the students, their families, and the community. Students who have been dismissed find themselves on the outside of Proctor looking in, and for many it is a particularly clarifying moment: invulnerability dissipates, self reflection kicks in, relationships are reassessed. Students who are dismissed can access a process that allows them to “appeal” the decision, to request that the door to the community be reopened one last time. Not all request an appeal, but most do. Is it too lenient to let students request what is essentially a third chance?
We have carried a different community energy this year, an energy that is still positive, still Proctor, but different. We carry the loss of Dave Pilla from the summer. We miss his cheer, his laughter, his grace, and his generosity, his constant search for the perfect cup of coffee and his constant reminder of wilderness solace and solutions. Many of us think about the way he held his depression so close, hiding it from so many. The Woodlands Office has been quieter this year, the woodstove cold for much of the winter. Next door, the Wilson Building sits empty and unused; it carries a heavy energy.