Our theme for the month of October is “flash nonfiction.” Writers were asked to submit pieces that were 250 words or less.
Here on the east coast, everything seems haunted. Even the sidewalks seem imbued with life and not-quite-life, cracked open by roots and footsteps, by the centuries-long shifting of the ground. Earlier this week I learned about the famous fundamentalist J. Gresham Machen in the very building he taught in a hundred years ago. Albert Einstein strolls through campus regularly, I imagine, on his way back home from running whatever errands ghosts run downtown.
There’s a battlefield here. I told my mom it was from the Civil War, but of course that’s not right: the British surrendered here on January 3, 1777. The building they retreated to served as the US Capitol building for four months in 1783. Nearby, a sign outside the Princeton University president’s house lists the slaves who lived and worked there.
“Settled 1683,” reads the sign I drive past on my way to class every day. How much haunting hides behind that word and that year.
At the seminary, we worship in a building first completed in 1834. Every day we join our voices with those who prayed and sang while also defending or accommodating slavery. But we sing too with peers and predecessors who have called for justice and liberation. Anything can echo off these old walls.
What new ghosts could we fill this town with? What could be learned and remembered by the wide-eyed Midwestern transplants of the future? Is this place only a past, or could it be made new?
Josh Parks graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a BA in English literature and violin performance, and he completed an MA program in medieval studies at Western Michigan University in 2020. He is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, which means his plans to be in school forever are working out well. When not writing, he can be found playing violin, drinking coffee, making excruciating puns, and trying to learn Old French.