Footsteps, footsteps, door opening, door closing, footsteps, footsteps, door opening, vacuum cleaner, door closing, footsteps.
The sounds of everyday life go on much as they did before the pandemic entered our lives.
Fr. Bob gets his exercise in the corridors of the house (10 times around is a mile!), while Tracy clears the courtyard of those unhappy reminders of the wild November winds that wrought havoc on a few of our most venerable and beloved trees. Marge keeps an eye on the tidiness in the kitchen, and I take duty with the vacuum cleaner to remove those members of the resident fly family who have chosen the windowsills of our house as a suitable place to pass into eternal rest. It’s probably time to check for flies again today. And it might be just about time to start employing the nightly magic of our early 20th-century air conditioning. After all, Just Bob did pop over today to shut down the boilers. Farewell to winter!
If you’re wondering how our early 20th-century air conditioning works, take a moment to envision the corridors on the second floor of this house: long, straight lines; high ceilings; elegant symmetry from side to side; transoms, doors, and windows all neatly aligned. And therein lies the key to our early 20th-century air conditioning: alignment. Well, to be fair, the high ceilings, so well suited to air circulation, likewise play a key role in the functioning of our early 20th-century air conditioning. There is a strong human element involved in the working of this system, as well; namely, one or more members of the household must move through each room each evening, opening windows and doors or transoms (or both) as Brother Sun settles into slumber and takes the day’s warmth with him. The combination of high ceilings and perfect alignment of windows, transoms, and doors creates a delightful cross-breeze through the nighttime hours, coaxing Sister Cool Night Air into, around, and throughout the house. It can be downright cold in here by the time Brother Sun awakens from his nightly nap. Indeed, Fr. Bob once noted that the magic of our early 20th-century air conditioning caused a 10-degree temperature drop in his room over the span of just a few hours. Remarkable, indeed!
But labor intensive, of course. As the morning sun begins to rise, windows, blinds, and transoms or doors must be closed again to hold in the cool air, while keeping the warm air at bay. Sometimes the northwest corner of the house – the last to receive Brother Sun’s full efforts – remains cool until almost 3:00 in the afternoon, even with no special intervention from the humans who live here.
It’s a wonderful and elegant system, to be sure. And no doubt the human effort involved in operating this system was significantly less significant in the early days of this house, when professors, clerics, and lay brothers could each take responsibility for the lone window in his own room. The four of us who live here now each need to take responsibility for more than just one lone window!
But it’s a responsibility that I don’t mind. I don’t mind meandering through the corridors, soaking in the “feel” of each room, enjoying the view from a slightly different angle as I move from window to window, wondering about and saying a little prayer for all those who’ve ever slept in this room or that room. It’s a simple, yet quite powerful, way to stay connected with the history of this house and with all those who have called this place home over the years.
That sense of connectedness with the past seems to be especially crucial now, as we coast through a crisis and look with uncertainty towards the other side of it. In moving from room to room to join the long-standing tradition of residents who have done their part in operating our low-tech air conditioning, I am reminded that a good number of those residents would have experienced conditions much like the ones we’re faced with now. A good number of those residents would have experienced the fear and uncertainty of the last pandemic that falls just within our collective memory. I wonder about the stories of those residents who lived through the 1918 Influenza pandemic.
All four of my grandparents likewise experienced that earlier pandemic, although one of them – the one who caught the virus and recovered – was too young to have (presumably) remembered much about it. Even still, at least two of my grandparents were surely old enough to have remembered the experience and could surely have told me stories about life in the time of a pandemic. But I never thought to ask them about it. I suspect that their experiences and the stories they told about those experiences would have differed quite a bit from the experiences of the professors, clerics, and lay brothers who had only just taken up residence in this house when the second wave of that earlier pandemic struck.
Did the Capuchins’ experience of cloister bring peace to those uncertain times? Did their experience of community bring comfort to those uncertain times? Did their vocation and the faith that inspired it bring courage during those uncertain times?
If only we could find the House Chronicle from 1919 and search therein for answers to these questions! Until that document surfaces and potentially (but probably not) proves my theory wrong, I choose to believe that the good friars of this place experienced the last time of pandemic with peace, comfort, and courage – at least relatively speaking! May we – both those of us dwelling within these holy walls and those of you dwelling within your own respective domestic churches – be likewise blessed with peace, comfort, and courage both now and after the ever-nearing time when we can see each other again.