Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Spirits of Lebanon, Part 6

Darrow made it perfectly clear that it had no connection with the Shaker Society and that the school favored no particular religion. But the Shaker idea of finding God within oneself was a good fit for a non-denominational school, and the administrators made sure we had plenty of time to do that searching.

We were required to attend chapel every evening but Saturday and on Sunday morning as well. Life at Darrow was regimental, our schedules designed to obliterate idleness. We attended classes on Saturday, too, but not on Wednesday - that was our time for "Hands to Work."

The student body was divided into work crews that spent Wednesdays doing maintenance, landscaping, repairs, farm chores and labor for Darrow Enterprises, which included the sale of apple cider, black walnut candy and wool. The designation came from the Shaker motto, "Hands to work, hearts to God." The Shakers believed that physical labor was an act of devotion, and an object made well or a job well done was in itself a prayer to the Almighty.

I have written occasionally over the past three years in this blog about Darrow, and some of you might recall my descriptions of my Hands to Work duties, which included picking apples and making cider, and working in the sheep pasture, mending fences and assisting the old ram to perform his mating duties.
Our Wednesday chores took us over the fields and into the woods to cut brush and clear fallen timber, and we often encountered evidence there of the old Shakers and their vigorous work ethic. I am still in awe of the walls they built, of rock chiseled and tightly fit to last through centuries, and wide and flat enough to accommodate horse-drawn hay wagons. We wondered where the huge, flat stones that made the surface of this "road" had come from. And how had they gotten there? It seemed as mysterious to us as the construction of the pyramids.

We resented the hard work we were made to do in those days, but inevitably some of the Shaker work ethic rubbed off on us and stayed with us.

Darrow has changed over the years. A few new buildings dot the campus. The student body is about 30 percent smaller, and half the students are girls now. Latin is no longer taught and there's no need for those three pay telephones in the basement of Wickersham anymore. But Wednesdays are still reserved for Hands to Work.

Sister Emma Neale would be proud.

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