Winter is what the Harvard student from California or Florida fears most. The natural phenomenon that erodes all the glamour and prestige of our name and forces us to confront why we are actually here, slugging through the frigid days. Winter shows that Harvard is great, not because of its reputation, but for its lived experience: unparalleled opportunities, an inspiring faculty, and most importantly, a fascinating collection of students.
At the beginning of the semester the sticky summer air of Massachusetts filled campus. Lowell residents complained that they had air conditioning, but it was not turned on. The rest of us complained that we did not even have fans. Either way, step counts were high as students happily wandered around campus, the weather a largely absent factor in their lives. The trees were green and the days were long; the only problem was the understanding of the evanescence of such pristine circumstances.
But, the summer was no time for gloom. After all, soon to follow was autumn, a season of immense beauty, bringing the exciting prospect of wearing new colors or one’s favorite sweater that had been tucked away since April. Winter was half a year away, or so it was supposed to be. Then right as the foliage sorted into a perfect mix of yellow, orange, and red the sun set at 5:30, and a day later at 4:30. There was no warning that returning to one’s dorm after a 3:00 class would require a flashlight.
As quickly as autumn began it ended, and we were dropped into the dark chasm of winter. It is normally understood that animals, such as geese, migrate south for the winter. But interestingly, the Canadian variety seems to emerge during the wintertime. The need for warm coats and hats accompanies a shift in conversation and behavior. Students from the Quad no longer savor the opportunity to take in their surroundings — instead they huddle together waiting for the shuttle. Freshmen, from warm places, confront the reality of facing snow for the first time, a battle for which they are completely unprepared. Others decry the sadness induced by the shift in climate. Winter, they assert, is the season of death. Maybe it is worth it for the benefits of the rebirth of spring, but it is a costly sacrifice as it lasts. Winter is for hibernating, for retreating to a place where it does not encroach, and waiting until it has receded. One wants to skip winter, to get back to the three quarters of the year (or, more accurately, one half in Massachusetts) that has trees with leaves and optional jackets. Winter is so awful that it might be the biggest reason not to come to Harvard. Why should one brave the misery handed down to us by Mother Nature when she is so kind to the residents of Palo Alto?
Yet winter, as it manifests in the actions and discussions of students, is completely ill-conceived. It is not death that makes way for rebirth, but transformation in its own right. Winter is the shedding of excess. Winter is essentialist, and it pushes everything and everyone to search for what they are in their core. What is the component of the tree that makes it such? What makes us happy? If there is no daylight and we cannot go outside and play, what is it that we have left to enjoy? If the winter robs Harvard of all of its comforts, what is left that makes this university exceptional?
In a way, the snow answers that question for us. After the winter decorticates us with the sting of the cold and the bite of the wind, it equalizes everything. The sheet of snow takes no concern for what is below it. Snow returns the possibility of playing outdoors. Snow shows us the outlines of the steam tunnels in the Yard that would otherwise be hidden. Snow demonstrates that something need not be ornate in order to be beautiful. The minimal and monotone, the undecorated and unsurprising, can be the greatest thing. And while snow may cover everything, it forces what is deep to be revealed. By removing any external differentiation between two objects, their innate qualities become clear and we have a deeper understanding of them. The winter is not death. It is the birth of the internal, the ignored, and the essential.
So, when the shuttle is late and you are walking back to Cabot in the cold and the dark, instead of complaining about how unfortunate these conditions are, consider your new opportunity to appreciate your school and yourself in a way untarnished by appearance.
Spencer W. Glassman ’23, an inactive Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Canaday Hall.