Restfulness and Obligation – 12.03.21

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

It is the nightmare of every family, every friend. Someone you love goes out and does not come home. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a run, and never came home. Some men shot and killed him while he was peacefully jogging, because he was a Black man. Almost, they got away with the murder, but sometimes, our legal system prevails and the murderers were convicted just before Thanksgiving. There is no waking from this nightmare, but there is some justice and retribution to slightly temper the heartbreak of losing Ahmaud Arbery.

I thought about violence and justice while in rural Vermont last week, where I saw almost no-one on my daily walks. There were snowflakes periodically, and bare trees soft grey as they slept. In the winter countryside, the night is wonderfully dark and the quiet almost total. It’s easy to rest there, to be restored and good to remember that the constant barrage of heinous or hateful acts reported in the news does not permeate everywhere. I hope your Thanksgiving was similarly peaceful.

Walking through the snowy hills, it was impossible not to recite the famous Robert Frost poem (my abridged version below) that he apparently created in twenty minutes, and which is nonetheless profound. It’s about the balance between restfulness and obligation, a balance that can help us be productive but still find peace.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near….
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake….

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Of course, New England never was an ideal land, and we must address our history of colonialism, and the racism and other inequities in our communities. But the poem reminds of the journey, and the destinations along the way of your life, your work, and your commitments. As we approach the end of this long semester, let’s remember that the journey is not solitary, that we are all part of a great university, part of an excellent College of Science, and that we are traveling together towards the future.

I hope you will find some time for holiday celebrations, and it’s wonderful that parties are back in the College of Science (within Northeastern safety guidelines)! If you are celebrating Hanukkah, enjoy the dreidels and gelt, and for my take on the ‘Evolution of Hanukkah’, please enjoy this podcast.