One of the bestselling children’s books about hibernation is Bear Snores On, written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Over the course of the story, several small animals seek shelter from the winter’s cold in a bear’s abode, becoming ever the more emboldened despite the dormant giant in their midst. “In a cave in the woods, / a slumbering bear / sleeps through the party / in his very own lair”—until, of course, the bear wakes up.
Hibernation fascinates our species. The twentieth-century American folklorist Stith Thompson dedicated much of his life to cataloging common motifs in traditional tales across human societies, one of which he identified as “magic sleep.” The Ancient Greek shepherd Epimenides, an early example of the type, was said to have slumbered in a cave for 57 years and emerged a prophet. Half a millennium later, the Jewish scholar Honi, according to both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, fell asleep for 70 years. In the early Christian era, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus are alleged to have been sealed in a cave for refusing to recant their faith, sleeping there for several centuries before waking. The Quran relates a similar story of religious endurance called the Companions of the Cave. Most widely known in our country, perhaps, is Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep a British subject and wakes up 20 years later an American citizen.
In nearly every account of “magic sleep,” the sleeper arises to a world transformed. Honi discovers the old temple destroyed and a new temple erected in Jerusalem. The Seven Sleepers marvel at the display of Christian crosses where once they were banned. Rip Van Winkle finds a portrait of George Washington now hanging at a local inn in place of King George III. Like the snoring bear, each of these slumberers “sleeps through the party / in his very own lair.”
How will it be, I wonder, on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic? Sometimes our experience of life is cyclical, and sometimes it is linear. Bears hibernate, awaken, and hibernate again with the seasons, but another hibernation of 20 years will not restore the old world to Rip Van Winkle. The old world is past. What former ways of being in the world will we resume when the pandemic ends, traveling a circular path, and what new ways will we have discovered along this challenging linear journey?
We inhabit circles and lines alike at MICDS. Every school year is at once familiar and new, and every student both the child we have known and the person they are becoming. “To hibernate” comes from a Latin word meaning “to pass the winter.” The figurative winter of COVID-19 is now passing, slowly but surely—and linearly—toward its termination, just as the literal spring of our year returns in the natural cycle of seasons. The words for “spring” in so many languages denote its auspicious place in this annual cycle. “Frühling” in German means “earliness.” “Voorjaar” in Dutch means “before the year.” “Majira ya kuchipua” in Swahili means “sprouting of summer.” “Caij nplooj ntoo hlav” in Hmong means “season of leaves.”
I am partial, though, to the etymology of the English word “spring”: “to burst forth.” Spring is a cyclical phenomenon with a linear name. What better time to burst forth than now, from our literal and figurative winters both? There may be no more lovely word in the world than spring. There is certainly no more timely one.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. We are so excited to move into this next season of the year and of our lives with you at MICDS. I wish you a wonderful spring break with your families.
Head of School