Fine Arts Column: On spring break in Camelot


A thought from spring break: strolling around the streets of a small town at night, one encounters a sort of strange, sacred solitude. The remarkable thing about it is that this tranquility doesn’t exist within oneself. It lives as a feature of the environment around you. Even if you happen to explore, ponder, wander about in the company of another person, you feel that you are both experiencing the sensation of having the whole town to yourself.

This small-town introspection lends itself to nostalgia and thoughts of the past. Granted, very few of us at Franciscan have acquired the years necessary to reminisce about our “good old days.” But the general calm of a small-town street provides a canvas upon which to notice small things which may remind of our childhood: a fountain, a cluster of daffodils, the old Methodist church that always reminded you of the abbey from Redwall.

It is a prevailing feature of adult life to think upon past experiences as a chimerical sanctuary to which we can never return. We long for the past, the time when things were “good.” Granted, this may not always be the case, but as an occasional sensation, it is nearly universal. I pondered this for a bit on the long drive back to school. Spring break had been one of those serendipitous times when I had the opportunity to see a musical and revisit the theatrical stomping grounds of my youth in the same trip. “Camelot” was the show, and it brought to my mind a number of reflections on our collective tendency to pine for our past as well as our future.

The plot of “Camelot” is based on a retelling of the King Arthur legend by T. H. White called “The Once and Future King.” In the climax of the story, Arthur finds himself overshadowed by a simultaneously moral and practical dilemma. Political machinations in Arthur’s court cast before the public eye the love between Queen Guinevere and Arthur’s right-hand man Sir Lancelot, though neither had been willing to break their respective vows or Arthur’s trust. Nevertheless, the subsequent scandal forces him to choose between maintaining his philosophy of not using his authority for violence’s sake and defending the honor and stature of the throne by executing Guinevere and waging war on Lancelot.

By the end of the musical, the glory of Arthur’s kingdom seems to be in shambles. The Round Table is disbanded, Lancelot flees the country, and Guinevere goes to live in a convent. Arthur understandably reflects on the passing of this golden era with some regret. However, he reconciles missing what once was with the knowledge that this era has passed, keeping an eye to the future without forgetting the blessing that he had once enjoyed.

In our life on this earth, happiness blossoms and fades like rays of the sun. When we see society in crisis, we often turn to ideals such as the golden of Camelot, where living seemed less fraught with uncertainty and justice always prevailed over cruelty. At times, we may lapse into escapism, but this is much less a danger than it is often made out to be.

A much more subtle danger is that of forgetting the lessons learned when society chooses to. Pieces of art like “Camelot” and the “Once and Future King” remind us that often these stories provide the inspiration we require to make society better. We may only be able to affect our small corner of the earth, but it is infinitely more significant than doing nothing.

The road ahead of each of us is full of uncertainty. For all our planning and effort, much less of our lives are within our own control than we think. The small towns of our youth may one day hold memories both joyful and sorrowful, pressed into the pavement like ink on a page.

May God grant us the grace in such moments to see his will in every passing thing, to give thanks when skies are blue and let him comfort us when they are gray. The rise and fall of Camelot, society and our own lives are simply all part of the tapestry which God is weaving from threads both dark and light and which, when we see it clearly, will be the most beautiful thing we have ever laid eyes upon.