November 1, 2018

A love letter to Mount Holyoke: the windows that watch us

Ale Cabezas ’21

Featured Image

Dear Mount Holyoke, 

I fear not enough people have a favorite window here on campus. If, when asked about you, we so ardently articulate that we find ourselves in a “pretty place,” why are we so unaware of the frames that encompass your beauty?

I know we all spend time gazing out windows — when homesick and thinking of the loved ones we left behind, when pulling an all-nighter and praying for strength, and especially when lonely and dreaming of anything other than the present despair of our existence. (We Mount Holyoke students embrace angst!)

Williston Library, a window to learning
How can one place (Williston Library) have so many amazing views?

Do we, then, find entrapment or release when gazing out a window? 

In her current exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Joan Jonas ’58 asks her audience, “Do you look in a mirror or at a mirror?” Her exhibition is an exercise in perception and self-reflection that forces the viewer to interact with the props and, consequently, to better understand the self against reality — becoming, in the process, an element of the art itself.

Kendall Sports and Dance Complex
Kendall Sports and Dance Complex

Not too dissimilarly, I think that you, Mount Holyoke, are a viable medium for self-discovery and an attuning instrument for the beauty that New England offers. And while we all know that we find ourselves in a “pretty” place, are we really tapping into the core and power of your being?

Classroom view, Skinner Hall
Classroom view, Skinner Hall

I think not.

Last semester, a good friend approached me with zeal, commenting that she had looked in and not at the window in her upper floor classroom at Clapp Laboratory and discovered that — to put it quite bluntly — “there was an entire world of beauty out there.”

She had, of course, seen the ’Delles hill during golden hour. But it was not just the light that illuminated the trees. Mount Holyoke, she said, suddenly felt less confining and she felt less contained: The class, the building, her momentary existence — sigh! — were all part of something bigger. There was more to the window than a physical positioning in relation to “the outside.” There was an entire outside that belonged to the inside.

Williston Library, a beacon of Collegiate Gothic style
Williston Library, a beacon of Collegiate Gothic style

How many windows do we miss, then, by rushing from door to door?

I apologize, Mount Holyoke, for all the times I’ve crossed by the Ciruti Center and saw only circles, but not the courtyard of lush, textured foliage outside. For when I took Snapchats of the windows in the Octagon Room of Williston Library so I could let my friends know it was 2 a.m. and I was still studying, but didn’t even register your Collegiate Gothic style. For when I looked out and saw paths I was to trod on cold, winter nights, but not the thousands of journeys that your paths have supported.

I am sorry that it was not until writing this piece that I decided to navigate Clapp Laboratory up and down and across so I could appreciate you from the lowest point to the highest ground — from Mary Lyon’s grave to the farthest hill on the horizon of the Pioneer Valley.

Science Center
Science Center

Because while I knew in my heart that you are beautiful — a sentiment shared by the collective imagination of generations of alums from your birth until my time — I knew not well that you could transform the deepest of sadnesses within me into a personal postcard. I knew not that in every window of this home was an invitation to the sublime. I knew not that a window was but a frame — a man-made object, almost arrogantly imposed against nature — between the self and the outside and that I could frame the picture as I wished. A picture that you, in your beauty, so coyly requested that I observe through windows.

A contemplative nook in Rockefeller Hall
A contemplative nook in Rockefeller Hall

And, alas, you were watching all this time.

You were waiting like a wise lover for me to come to my senses: to open those windows and see what I had been overlooking.

I know now that a frame is a consequence of circumstance. I understand that a window shows a moving picture, but there is likely a more chaotic motion behind the observing eyes. I am now more self-aware of the frames through which I see you. What I see in your outside is a window into myself. And the transcendental communion you were offering me was there all along.

From left: Abbey Memorial Chapel, Science Center, Talcott Greenhouse
From left: Abbey Memorial Chapel, Science Center, Talcott Greenhouse

You were watching me because I am neither the first nor the last to feel this way. You’ve seen it before and you’ll see it again. You, as a sanctuary of opportunities, as a house of learning, as a bucolic paradise, know things that my human hubris can merely come to realize. I can, for the meantime, look out a window for what you want to show me. 

I can then ask, what if we looked at you through a new window every day?

A place of beauty, a place of power. Visit us!  

Photo at top: upper floor, Blanchard Hall

Alejandra Cabezas ’21 is from San Salvador, El Salvador. She intends to major in ancient studies and English. For the moment, job prospects are clearly not a worry for her. The things that make her happiest are — in no particular order — her loved ones, walking around big cities and winding down at the end of the day.
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