May 5, 2020 shona

“Midlanders Can Survive Any Era”

The book, Dominion Over Palm and Pine by Gary Lewis, sits on a wooden table with oak leaves on the coverPreface: Last week, Midland offered a first-of-its-kind Zoom meeting to our students, parents and faculty in which we collectively discussed Gary Lewis’ Midland history book, Dominion Over Palm and Pine: Paul Squibb and His Students. Led by Midland’s English department, our community read excerpts from the book, then joined in conversation together on a Thursday evening with a focus on relating Midland’s founding values to our current day challenges.

Across generations and time zones, Midland students, faculty, parents and Board Members plugged in from our scattered living rooms to engage in an intellectual and heartful discussion. In small Zoom groups led by upperclassmen, we dug into Midland values shaped by global crises (ie. the Great Depression and WWII) which also helped Midlanders endure through times of challenge from 1933 to 2020.

Parallel values resonated through each group: Resilience. Adaptability. Resourcefulness. Gratitude for Community. I was personally struck by the honesty and vulnerability shared by community members of all ages suddenly thrown together in a group of strangers. We discussed the strange disconnect between the harrowing tales of our front-line healthcare workers and our mundane daily routines of isolation – and how privileged we are to feel the distance between these two realities. We noted how the internet has been a blessing and a curse. We miss getting to hug one another. And we are grateful for the chance to have a close conversation like this across so much distance. We also noted how timeless Midland mottos like “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” ring true even in our homes during “Shelter-in-Place.” Today we may not be fixing pipe or building our own tiny cabins, but we’re learning how to cook meals with what we’ve got left in the pantry to minimize trips to town. We talked about the kind of creativity born out of necessity. In 1941, it meant erecting soccer goals out of “some used nets from a Santa Barbara fisherman” (Lewis 296); in 2020, it looks like Midland students building home gardens and painting murals in the garage – instead of just zombie-ing out in front of the television.

As Founder Paul Squibb wrote, “from the frugality of war-time on the civilian front, we may learn that frugality, of itself, is not a good thing…[but] we might learn that frugality and even parsimony can be a source of happiness, provided we share what we save with others who are in need “(Lewis 398). This makes me think of early mornings on-campus with faculty harvesting our farm extras to donate to Veggie Rescue, and students delivering groceries to elderly folks in their neighborhoods, and all of us sharing extra attention and care with those we love.

Looking at the sea of tiny pixelated faces, parents and students snuggled on couches, I was truly moved as students and Board Members alike raised their hands to share common appreciation for this institution, and novel ideas for continued evolution. I could not be more proud to belong to this community of wild, brave, creative humans. As one student said in our group, “Midlanders can survive any era.” Indeed – with a spirit of selfless abundance and relentless grit, we’ll make it through.

By Ellie Moore, Humanities Faculty