The King is Dead, Long Live the King

By Andromeda Yelton
Written as an e-mail message to the CTY-L list
Been lying in the next room not falling asleep thinking about CTY, and traditions, and change, and death, and I'm probably going to regret this a whole lot when the alarm rings in seven hours, but what can I say, it's been a nostalgic night. I go to a potluck and what, after today's conversations, should I see, but a friend wearing the very T-shirt of the psychology class that got kicked out of Park City Mall? (Yes, we were both in that class, and yes, we're still friends, and yes, that *was* 1993 and his T-shirt is still intact.)

People talk about whether CTY is dead. People have been swearing it is for since before I'd heard of it and probably will be right up until it dies for good, no more office at JHU or campuses or anything.

I think "CTY is dead" is a pretty valid claim. I have to; I've been making it for about seven years now. But thinking about traditions, I think I've got a handle on why this works.

A lot of people hold to the "many paths, one God" argument -- that is, the concept that there may be a lot of spiritual journeys you can take, but they're all good, they all get you to the same end. Whether or not you happen to believe in this isn't material to this argument; it's a metaphor.

I don't think anyone can rationally dispute that the CTY magic is still out there. Here, seven years after I started saying CTY was dead, I see people attending last summer, this summer who still feel it, who react in many of the ways I did, are changed in many of the same ways. The magic is still there; people are still getting to God.

But it doesn't happen in a vacuum. There's not (to munge my physics) one big ether of CTY that people move through and somehow come out the end, magicified. The magic happens through specific interactions, specific patterns of interactions. Maybe it *could* have been a lot of different ones, but it *was* that particular one. That's what you remember; that's what shapes you.

Some people see the magic continuing to happen, and are bemused or horrified or furious when people say CTY is dead. Because there people are, finding the magic, getting to God.

But to touch back with our metaphor -- I doubt most of the people who believe "many paths, one God" would actually go that way in practice. You may *think* that the Catholics and the Buddhists and the pagans and the evangelicals are all getting there, but chances are you wouldn't be comfortable following more than one of those paths, and maybe none at all. Maybe you wouldn't even be capable of finding any kind of God along them. Even if they're just as good for someone else.

I think that people who make the CTY is dead argument make it because their path to the magic is gone. Or, at least, so many of the things which caused the magic for them have been changed or mutilated that the path as a whole is no longer viable. For me, it was freedom; the exhilarating feeling of being in a place where I could be who I was, where people would accept me for that, where I could talk to people my own age about it, where adults basically left me alone to be that person and assumed I could take care of myself pretty well. The *students* who can nurture that freedom are still there, but the adults kept leaving for me...the tremendous RA turnover meant more and more the RAs had never been to CTY, didn't understand why it wasn't just another summer camp, were the kind of people who as students would have treated it as just another summer camp and not seen the magic...the administration imposed more and more rules, treated me less and less as a person who might make mistakes but was basically trustworthy and more as someone to be corralled, watched over, and restricted because God forbid I should damage the image...I just stopped being free. I was uncertain about returning my last year, and I'm glad I did, I'm glad I got to meet Passionfruit and digi, but I definitely wouldn't have gone back if I'd had the CTY was dead. From the evidence I gather, now and again, I think it still is.

And the person who thinks his (I think this was a he...) CTY will be dead without LLRT -- what's to say he's wrong? If his path to the magic was through a huge and dynamic group guarding history and tradition, and that group is gone...maybe you can't just replace it with something else and say, "Well, the magic's there for someone else, what's wrong with you?"

People find and generate new paths, and that's good; I wouldn't want people to grow up without an opportunity for new magic. But we must be careful of the old paths. They spring up by accident -- I am appalled at the number of Lancaster traditions in whose founding I played a part, and I had no idea I was creating a tradition at the time -- but they're *kept* because they're real and meaningful for the people who hold them.

And it's good to keep your history; it's good to know how things used to be. It gives you something to honor, and something to hold to, and a way to resist changes for the worse.

My CTY is dead. I've said that before, I've said that a lot, I've said a lot of harsh things about it, and I stand by those. The freedom, the trust from adults, the role models I found who weren't my parents but adults almost close enough to be -- these mattered to me, and I don't want to endorse a CTY I do not see as having that path to magic. But your CTY might not be dead. Or it might be, but for entirely different reasons.

In a sense, maybe, it has to be...maybe we have to find a reason to move on which is more compelling than the calendar. Maybe it's an experience which can't be replicated outside of that narrow phase of life, that time when everyone has summers free and relies primarily on someone else for money and so much of life can be compressed into so short a time...maybe we need a way to put a distance between ourselves and it, maybe we need to create a finality which exists in some natural way.

Though I hope, if we do, it needn't be so bitter.