What’s all this about tin shacks and trapezoids?

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

The teacher of my friend’s kindergartener had launched a 26-day project in which the children were to bring items to school each day in a small brown lunch bag bearing a letter of the alphabet. The single working mother of two was scrambling to prepare … you know, an artichoke on A day, a bug on B day, and so on. When they got to N day, Felix, her son, insisted on bringing an empty bag. My friend shrugged. He’d broken her spirit around F when he brought a putrid fungus he’d been cultivating for this very purpose. When the teacher asked what he brought to represent N, the boy simply said, “Nothing.”

He just graduated from Harvard, btw.

What’s the matter

I recently read the book No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s not very long and would be a quick read if you didn’t have to stop and repair your blown mind every few paragraphs. He’s got me grappling to comprehend his concept that there is no such thing as nothing. The way the author sees it, matter can’t be created or destroyed, so we are all just cosmic ingredients in an ever-transforming, eternal stew. See that sunflower? It contains the sun, those clouds from last week, your long-lost sister, the rain from Tuesday, the soil from the visiting dog’s paws, the exhaust from the teenager’s car idling in the driveway, and so on. Everything is everything so there can never be nothing.

See what I mean?

I take comfort in this notion as the summer months devolve into the annual cacophony of construction in this town. Tis the season when cranes crowd the Ann Arbor skyline and roadblocks terrorize commuters. And of course, with construction comes de-struction, as the medical campus loses such treasures as the beloved breakfast joint Angelo’s to another hospital expansion; Elbel Field to a new $500M complex of residence halls; and the funky tin cabins of U-M’s BioStation to a mere desire for better amenities, even in the forest.

Keep everything

A line of cabins at U-M Biological Station.

The earliest cabins at the U-M BioStation were built in 1914. (Image: Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography.)

There’s plenty more examples … that’s just off the top of my head. So it’s hard not to get a little blue when icons of your past keep disappearing before your very eyes. I’ve never even been to the BioStation (and those cabins probably suck). But man, if those walls could talk! And yes, I’ll still hear the Michigan Marching Band when I drive into work, but I’ll miss that field, which I only just learned is shaped like a trapezoid. Sadly, I have no words to comfort the patrons of Angelo’s.

But if our late friend Thich Nhat Hanh is right, none of those things is actually going away. And if you’ve ever spoken to an archivist, librarian, or historian you know he’s absolutely right. Just dive into The Michigan Daily’s digital archive or the vault at the Bentley Historical Library. History crackles inside the Labadie Collection and animates the Mavericks & Makers archive of cool indie filmmakers. It’s coursing through the shelves at the Clements and the cases of the Kelsey. And it’s in the names of residence halls like Alice Lloyd and Helen Newberry.

As a nostalgic sentimentalist who longs for a chance to time travel, I have no option but to take solace in these notions of Thich Nhat Hanh. Relax. It’s all still here. And always will be.

Really? That patron craving raisin-bread french toast might beg to differ.

(Lead image of volleyball court on Elbel Field by Peter Matthews, Michigan Photography.)

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