Not a table was full in the Knorr Family Memorial Dining Hall on Easter morning.
Most were empty. Few voices scattered throughout the hollow hall. The bright yellow chickadee, coconut covered cupcakes were the liveliest thing to be seen. (Well done, Bon Appetit.)
Most Sundays at this time, lines snake through the overcrowded cafe, creating a maze impossible to escape. People rummage through apples, bananas, and berry scones, still wearing nice clothes to signal that yes, they went to church too. It’s nearly impossible to walk by every table without at lease one invitation to join.
This holy day was different.
“Maybe most students went home.” False. Nearly 500 people attended the Easter Vigil at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church the night before to celebrate 24 students being confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I saw more than 30 students at the College Baptist Sunrise Service at 6:45 a.m. Even more attended the 10:45 a.m. service. The students weren’t gone.
Some stayed to see their friends get confirmed. Many said their churches at home were closed. Easter pairs poorly with online services, they said. Others couldn’t imagine an Easter apart from Hillsdale, even if home was just a couple hours away.
“When we went home for COVID last year, I thought to myself, ‘Hopefully we will be back by Easter,’” my friend Dominic Bulger told me.
And after Sunday, I can’t imagine an Easter without my Hillsdale community. Those empty chairs at all those empty tables in the dining hall? I spend a lot of time with my friends at those tables — I’ll always be fond of the overcrowded dining hall with mediocre food.
But those tables are filled with conversations that are meant to be unfinished, intended to move beyond the hour-long dinner. Friendships outlasted those long tables, and yet those tables hear old friends who exclaim to one another, as Lewis said, “You too?!”
The tables weren’t empty because students weren’t celebrating. They were empty because Easter celebrations were too grand for this typical spot. The cafeteria doors broke open on Easter morning.
One off-campus home, Bjornheim, slaughtered a lamb at 6 a.m. His name was George, and he needed to be ready for 2 p.m. lunch. They picked him up from a local Amish farm. They were going for the one-year-old unblemished male lamb, but as it turns out, George was a female sheep going on two years old. She ran away the day before Easter, through the backyards on Union St. and into the football tailgate by the sports complex.
George didn’t get too far — which meant the Sunday feast was still on. The band of brothers held fast to their 6 a.m. slaughter. I held fast to showing up at 2 p.m. for the feast. Little by little, more people arrived, most with a dish in hand. Everything from potatoes au gratin to Ritz Crispy Thins covered the rusted folding tables. Strangers came to the table. Anyone was invited. “Lamb is expensive, venmo Morgan-morrison,” a brown cardboard sign read, the only requirement for a seat at the feast.
One student hosted a brunch for friends with her family, who flew out from Texas for the weekend. It’s an annual tradition for her parents to rent the same large lake house 15 minutes from Hillsdale and ship a 20-pound ham into town. Then they invite all of her friends for an afternoon of feasting, puzzling, and kayaking. Twenty friends scattered across that property this year. Freshman who couldn’t go home showed up. Some guests were alumni.
I asked my housemate what she was doing for Easter. “I’m going to my godparents’,” she said, smiling. He was our professor, and the man who would now walk alongside her in the Catholic faith.
Another friend showed me a necklace his professor gifted him upon his arrival to the home on Easter Sunday. “They couldn’t wait to give it to me,” he said.
Then there was the feast at my house. We wanted to eat outside, but we also wanted to play. We lacked the resources. At the alert of a text, a particular man unlocked the Hayden Park clubhouse doors. “Take anything here that you want.” I drove away grinning, my car loaded with 24 folding chairs, brown wooden tables, bocci ball, cornhole, and bright-colored ladder ball. On Easter Sunday, I glanced out my window to see four friends throwing sandbags. It was 7 p.m.
We didn’t have these celebrations because Hillsdale was our only option. We chose to stay in Hillsdale so we could celebrate together. Herein lies Hillsdale’s beauty: it demands nothing other than the individual come and sit at the feast. Hillsdale is a place full of open tables.