Is it possible to enter into something as one person and to emerge two weeks later a different one? To undergo a metamorphosis as quickly as a monarch butterfly, huddling into a cocoon for fourteen days and emerging something brilliant and different (that eats slightly less)?
I would have said no two weeks ago. (Well, nearly three now.) But then, well…
It’s hard to come somewhere that looks like this and stay the same. 😉
On July 21st I boarded a plane and flew to Los Angeles for the Thomas Aquinas College Summer Program; I picked up my suitcases (one was full of shoes, don’t judge me) and got on a bus for the college. I remember sitting next to a girl with brilliant red hair and driving through all these mountains and talking about Latin and other random intellectual stuff, and I finally I realized just how amazing it was all going to be. I said to her, “You know, the best part of being here is that everyone here has a passion for learning… Everyone here is different, but we’re united because we all care about knowledge and understanding and everyone here is looking for wisdom. You don’t get that at home; in a normal setting, nobody cares. Here people are going to care.”
I wasn’t wrong.
At TAC people wanted to learn. I wasn’t the only one talking in class; with the exception of three or four people, almost everyone in class contributed to discussion. We realized really quickly that the simplest, most seemingly obvious questions were the most profound. Instead of just assuming something as fact, we learned to ask WHY we assumed it. This is most obvious in Euclid, when we didn’t just say, “Well, yeah, obviously two angles on a straight line will equal 180 degrees,” but instead proved this using basic postulates and common notions… but it also came up in Genesis and Macbeth and Oedipus Rex… We had to look inside the text itself to answer our questions; we couldn’t bring in outside theology or trivia. (This happened a lot in Crito. “Well, the Ancient Greeks thought x, y, z…” “I have an idea, why don’t we read what the Ancient Greeks wrote and find out if that’s true rather than just assuming it…”) I got really attached to this quote from Aristotle: “All men by nature desire to know.” It really is true; I frequently give the speech that knowledge is desirable for its own sake… While I was at TAC I realized that I don’t just want to be smart, I want to be wise. There’s such a difference.
Outside of the classroom was amazing too. I went to Mass nearly every day – the first day the Traditional Latin Mass was offered I went for the first time, and I was completely and utterly lost. I was really disappointed because I’d been so excited to finally go and then I didn’t understand any of it. But I determined that I would go every single day I until it clicked… a few days later, it did. I followed along in the missal, realized the priest said a lot of it silently, that it was up to me to stay on track and follow along – and in doing so, I became fully dissolved into the mass. I didn’t check my watch once, and as I was walking out of the chapel I realized that I hadn’t just prayed at Mass… I’d prayed the Mass, by reading all the prayers the priest was saying and so intently following along. It was incredible and beautiful and in that moment I just fell head over heels in love with the TLM. (I fell even MORE in love on Sunday at the High Mass… THE MOST gorgeous thing I’ve ever been to in my entire life.)
The friendships I forged there were incredible, too. I will treasure these people for the rest of my life. My roommate was so wonderful; she would do my hair in the mornings because I’m completely inept, we’d make sure we were both in dress code, and we’d stay up late talking… She would yank me out of bed in the mornings so I wouldn’t be late for Mass even though she went to the later Mass and didn’t need to be up yet, and she would take a bunch of selfies with me and we’d die laughing over breakfast. I met up with two of my friends who I’d known before through school, and they were wonderful. Aspirer was one (check out her post about TAC; it’s much better than this one and was featured on the blog) and the other was Joe. We hadn’t been super close before the program, but when I met up I basically attacked him with a hug (he’d say it was an attack, pure and simple, but he’s mean to me) and from that point on he became one of my most solid friends. I met my friend Val there because he was with Joe, but he soon became part of our group… such a sweetheart (and so much better at Latin than everyone). The last few days we “forcibly adopted” Anna into our group, and I’m glad we did. She’s literally a character from an Austen novel and so kind.
I met Sepp (he didn’t go to the program, but he came up to campus for a day) and it was fantastic; I actually befriended his older brother, Patrick, who worked on campus and I was surprised at what a good friend he was. He showed up to breakfast every morning the second week to help us with Euclid and would stay and chat all the way until we had to go to class. I never expected to make friends with him, but I’m so glad I did.
I remember on the Thursday night before the last night I was furiously studying Euclid (literally furiously… I was in a terrible mood) in the commons while an impromptu dance practiced went on in the background. Patrick was trying to help me, but I was so cranky I couldn’t get anywhere… eventually Patrick just went, “Come dance, you’ll feel better.” Apparently dancing puts one in a more favorable disposition to do Euclid. Who knew?
There are so many stories that I couldn’t possibly get into them all, but the memories of my sword, jokes about seeing people’s knees, Milk Guy, freezing cold water, Santa-Barabara-but-really-Canada, losing all my lipstick to my coffee mug (and my having coffee at every meal), not getting cancer because of blueberries and dark chocolate (“Okay, THAT is a fiction made up by a WOMAN.”)… Gah. I miss it all so much. At the dance on the last day I basically sobbed my guts out all over my friends in front of everyone. They really are the best huggers and I miss them and their hugs and their voices and their laughter.
Val was the last one I left – our flights were at the same time in the same terminal, so he was the last one I saw before I had to fly away. I wish I could have stayed forever, but all good things must come to an end. I miss my mountains and the gorgeous weather and the Traditional Mass and not having to cook my own meals… 😛 But I still have the memories with me and that’s enough to hold onto.
A friend of mine remarked the other day that TAC changed me. And she did. TAC taught me to seek wisdom above knowledge; taught me to appreciate beauty, truth, friendships, love, time… made me realize what was important and worthwhile and what isn’t. When they told me on the 21st that these would be the best two weeks of my life, I laughed and went, “Sure.” I realized on the last night that they hadn’t been trying to sell me something, they’d been telling the truth.
I’m so glad I went. I’m so glad I had this experience. And I am so so glad to be this butterfly that TAC has turned me into; I’m sure as soon as I stop mourning my departure I’ll be a lot happier than I was before I went. 😉 Thank you, Thomas Aquinas. Thank you for everything.
“All men by nature desire to know.” ~Aristotle