This morning as I motored onto campus I was once again moved by the beauty of our little 380 acres. The canopy of trees on Abbey Way opened to pre-sunned fields, crunch-covered with frost. The water ponds on the left, still hazy, steam rising. Red-winged blackbirds standing tall on threads of grasses, defying physics. As I got out of the car the air kissed my face with that yummy chill that comes on early mornings when the temperatures are low, the skies are blue, the sun is up — though not quite — and some mystical force makes the edges of everything a little more distinct.
I was reminded of the first time I drove up Abbey Way in 2012 for my job interview. It was the first of April and we had a freak snow storm. My interview was at 8 a.m. and being all ya-gotta-do-this-and-ya-gotta-do-that-if-you-wanna-make-an-impression, I arrived at about 7:30. Crossing College Street, hustle and bustle dissolved. I plunged into stillness, spaciousness. The snowflakes were wet and heavy, falling lazily to the ground, stitching an elegant, alabaster quilt over the entire landscape. Reflexively, my foot came off the gas. My shoulders slackened. My brow softened. Everything slowed.
That was my SMU Aha! Moment. The moment when you realize you’ve landed someplace wondrous. Is it the sight of Old Main on the hill? The way the monks have tended the land? The trees surrounding us? There’s no doubt about it. There is something special about Saint Martin’s. This place. Perhaps it’s the way the sunlight breaks onto the fields. Or the fact that for 100 years our monks have lived here, worked here, died here and are buried here. Is the very soil infused with something that makes it easier for us to touch the tender parts of ourselves?
As we spent time with our stakeholders, and OHO, in January, it became clear to Carl and me that there was something, some other thing, that makes us sit up and take notice — this is part of what OHO is helping us to define. For the OHO folks it was standing on the balcony of Cebula, looking across campus and saying, “It’s just right.”
For Carl, it was when he was coming for an interview. “When I was initially hired to consult with Saint Martin’s (1999) I got lost trying to find the campus although I had lived in the area for six years. A hidden treasure? Once I called and got directions (I was only a few blocks away) and drove onto Abbey Way I was presented with tree-lined drives throughout campus. At that time, I thought, ‘I get to work here?'”
For Sarah Holdener it was about a year into working at Saint Martin’s. “I headed down to St. Gertrude’s for lunch and as I wandered through the café and the seating area, I recall saying hello to everyone there… because I knew them all. I was overcome with a sense of community that day. I love that I know practically everyone on campus. It paves a smooth road for collaboration.”
It seems that everyone has an SMU Aha! Moment. People walk this campus and instantly know that this is where they need to be. Students and their parents. Faculty and staff. Our local community. It’s elusive. It’s a mystery. But it’s here. And it’s why we’re here.
Do you have an SMU Aha! Moment? Share it with the community by leaving a comment below.