“How wonderfully strange it would be to live in a place where almost everything had been built by the dead.” -Hazel Grace, in John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”
I haven’t lived in a place long enough to be sad about old buildings that are slated for remodeling. I live in the center of a constant stream of construction projects. We had a floating bridge collapse a month ago, and taxpayers have been putting in the money for the past year to build something safer. An arson down my street means that better housing is being built– the old one was decrepit and housed nothing but graffiti anymore. History will always be recorded in the books, and shouldn’t prevent us from making history now, is mostly the way I see it.
The only place I ever get a sense of what Hazel Grace is talking about is when I walk through campus.
1916-1923. The University of Washington spent 7 years just constructing the liberal arts quadrangle. The Quad. Every spring the cherry blossoms bring all the families on this side of the Rockies, with their grandparents and their pets and baby strollers. Newlyweds and the newly-engaged take professional photographs here every year. Softbox lighting with a white umbrella and all. Sneakers under the gown. Mirrors on the grass, placed just out of the shot. One hundred years ago these were just ideas, then bricks, which someone physically laid down. Blueprints of these majestic buildings were still being erased and redrawn. Paperwork and legalese in which the Dean said yes, let’s build it already.
Everyone wants to leave a mark in this world. Even the ones who do great things don’t know whether their theories will be overturned in the next century, or whether the next segment of their work will be finished and published posthumously and earn them a share of the Nobel Prize.
If 43,000 students walk on your brick path, and 0.1% of them wonder about the history of it, that’s 4300 strangers who think of you each day. How wonderfully strange it is.