It was an obscenely beautiful day at Swarthmore College –– one that we never got to see.
Waking up after three hours of drunken night terrors, we raced to a ribbon cutting ceremony that would mark the beginning of our descent into the allegorical cave of Sharples Dining Hall for 24 hours. A looming cloud of bad hung over our heads when the tragedies of the day began. First, our “silk ribbon,” which was just red electrical tape that we found, wasn’t long enough to reach across the handrails outside of Sharples. And second, our efforts weren’t enough to reverse the clock’s hand when Eva’s stork-shaped scissors grazed the rubbery adhesive at 9:43 a.m., earning us a tasty breakfast of oats cereal.
In an ideal world, we’d begin the day with a Hunger Games-inspired cockfight to the death and an equestrian race featuring humans skittering on all fours across the glamorous marble floors to the lunch line. But alas, this was a mere manic fantasy, for Sharples Dining Hall had other plans in store for us. While one might get excited at the idea of receiving a full day’s worth of meals with a single swipe, Sharples possesses a powerful, deeply chaotic energy that will inevitably drive you out of its maw.
Even though the dining hall seems benign at first glance, readily welcoming you and your friends into the warm inner belly of the beast, the walls slowly begin to confine you. After sitting in the same chairs for three hours that morning, the environment grew sterile and restrictive, forcing us to trace the perimeter of the building for fear of losing circulation to our lower extremities. The stained glass reflection in the loud room didn’t succeed in achieving the calming effect it probably sought to instill, and instead began to cauterize our skin at light’s touch.
The discovery of the Lost & Found wasn’t as revolutionary as we expected it to be, either. With the most fruitful find being someone’s flyer for the Renée Elise Goldsberry concert, which must’ve been intentionally left behind, the skimming of people’s once-possessed treasures became more and more stomach churning with closer inspection. If you need convincing, just consider someone’s orange mouthguard which was left to oxidize on a brown paper towel. Returning to our table at Hour Five, though, felt just as nauseating as the mouthguard. We heard the vivacious P!nk playing from somewhere behind us, a perplexing, yet unsurprising, addition to the horrors we had already faced during the gauntlet.
Perhaps the most bewildering element of the Sharples 24* (eight) Hour Challenge was to witness everyone come to eat, joining us in our misery, only to leave after 15 minutes. As soon as they left Sharples, they went about their day, enjoying the beautiful, exquisite weather. But what about our day? What about us? Did no one have compassion? And the fact that the Sharples staff did not seem even a little concerned for us was also a deeply humbling, yet troubling, experience. The staff didn’t even blink when Sage fell asleep atop three chairs during the interim closing hours between lunch and dinner.
Never abandoning our intellectual endeavors, we created a seminar-style analytical session of the large painting monogrammed with the initials “SCLP,” hoping to uncover the meaning behind the worm baby in a purple cloth in the foreground, or the black onion with a red smile crossing its legs to the left. Before the seminar, though, we had to destroy the Compost Pile, which was a collection of all our food since breakfast. The flies which had been swarming around our table the entire afternoon must’ve been dejected to discover its forcible removal, but no progress comes without sacrifice.
After eight inhumane, brutal hours, we came to the conclusion that Sharples must be cursed, or at least nearly as cursed as the Field House. Perhaps a visit to the Matchbox, or really anywhere else, would have be more fruitful than spending another hour, or another 16 hours, in the Cave. Plato certainly had a point when he claimed that residing in darkness, only to emerge into the light, would lead to enlightenment. But even when comparing Sharples to Plato’s cave allegory, we miss how unrelenting and haunted Sharples is — eight hours was enough to destroy our hope, forcing us to repent in the outside light.
And now, a dialogue inspired by Plato:
JIM BOCK ’90: Imagine, if you can, a cave, in which people are chained to their chairs and unable to leave. Now imagine a painting, with clashing, disparate colors, that these people are forced to observe, as they are chained and therefore unmoving.
DEAN HENRY ’87: I see.
JIM BOCK ’90: In this way, Dean Henry, are they not prisoners? Are these people not prisoners if they are chained to their chairs, unable to leave the cave? Are they not prisoners if they must constantly regard the painting before them, attempting to perceive its deepest truths?
DEAN HENRY ’87: You have presented me with quite a strange image, but, nevertheless, yes, I suppose they are prisoners.
JIM BOCK ’90: Then imagine I said that one of these prisoners somehow became freed of his chains, now able to move freely within the cave and the world around him. What if the prisoner left the cave, only to be blinded by the new light surrounding him?
DEAN HENRY ’87: I suppose his eyes would sting.
JIM BOCK ’90: Now, imagine if this cave was named, perhaps, Sharples Dining Hall. And, I said, imagine if a prisoner left Sharples. Would he not find it strange to be in the light?
DEAN HENRY ’87: Yes, she said.
JIM BOCK ’90: But, after some time, would he not see and perceive the light properly? Would he not become enlightened?
To answer that question, yes, if the prisoners are somehow given the opportunity to escape Sharples, they will, to some extent, gain enlightenment. But here’s the catch: you’re only enlightened in the sense that you now know, for certain, that you will never want to spend more time than you have to in Sharples. So, in case you’re considering your own Sharples 24 Hour Challenge, please realize that the anticipation for the event itself is a lot more dramatic and excruciating than the actual experience and “enlightenment” that is to follow. We would know.
TL;DR (Our Sharples 24* Hour Challenge Schedule):
9:43 a.m.: Ribbon cutting ceremony outside of Sharples
9:45 a.m.: The Descent into the “Cave”
10:30 a.m.: Brunch, and the creation of the Compost Pile
12:30 p.m.: Lunch, and the addition to the Compost Pile
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Exploration of the Lost & Found in Sharples
2:14 p.m.: Someone plays P!nk
3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.: Nap time
4:30 p.m.: Dinner
4:54 p.m.: The bussing and forcible removal of the Compost Pile
5:00 p.m.: Seminar by the Sharples painting in the Quiet Room
5:30 p.m.: The Ascent from the “Cave”
5:31 p.m.: Enlightenment