Eventually, even the most hectic semester comes to an end, and so it’s been almost a week since I submitted the last batch of spring semester grades for my face-to-face classes.
This past week, I’ve been digging out from under the obligations I neglected while I was grading, and catching up on sleep, and trying to remind myself what I like to read and write when I’m not buried in student papers. It’s a process of decompression I go through at the end of every semester: “Coming to after coming down from end-term adrenaline, I feel like I have to get re-acquainted with the most precious friend I’ve sorely neglected: myself.”
On Saturday, J and I walked to Boston College, snapping plenty of pictures on our way to see the current exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art. Dura-Europos was an ancient multicultural city located in what is now Syria, and Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity features frescoes and artifacts that replicate the cultural melting pot of a city where Jews, Christians, and pagans lived and worshiped side-by-side. (Click here for the Wall Street Journal review of the exhibit, or here for the Boston Globe review, or here for an animation of the frescoes in the Dura-Europos synagogue.)
Viewing restored frescoes and artifacts from a once-vibrant city is a bit creepy, as you can’t help but wonder what tales you’d hear if only these old walls could talk. Archaeology reveals the past gradually, layer by layer, each shovel of dirt unearthing the long-dead dreams of ages gone by. What was it like to worship Mithras in the desert, or to belong to a congregation that hid its Christian worship services in an otherwise ordinary-looking house? Who was it who prayed beneath intricate paintings of Scriptural scenes back when these synagogue frescoes were fresh?
At the end of every spring semester, I sort through the piles of paper that have accumulated over the past year, and as I deposit fat stacks of student papers in a confidential recycle bin whose contents will be shredded, I wonder about those students whose names and paper topics I foggily remember. How has the accumulation of time, layer upon layer, treated them? One of this week’s tasks has been to pack and move piles of files from my apartment in Keene to our house in Newton: a consolidation of paperwork that feels Herculean in scope. How is it that something so flimsy as paper so quickly accumulates into weighty mounds, enough to bury even the most active among us?
Archaeologists try to reanimate the artifacts of long-dead lives, and the process of weeding through piles of paperwork brings me face-to-face with my own past. Who was I when I wrote or received these stacks of letters, these shelves of notebooks, or these piles of research drafts? What dreams did I have, and which dreams did I defer? Days pass without truly disappearing, their momentous moments merely accumulating in forgotten corners, time layered upon time.