The Seminary Co-op in August, before the move. (Photography by Connie Ma, AB'10, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Into the labyrinth
A last exploration before the Seminary Co-op makes its big move.
Unlike many others, I stood in front of the Seminary Co-op on its last day full not of bittersweet memories but rather of a sense of expectant mystery. In more than two years here, I had never once fully explored this labyrinth; I would do so eventually, I always reassured myself—but that was with the assumption that the Co-op would remain forever as it is. With its relocation imminent—it opens at its new above-ground location at McGiffert House on November 21—that Sunday was my final chance to make the pilgrimage. On the bench before the entrance, sheets of paper from the Seminary Co-op Documentary Project were haphazardly strewn, with the prompt “________ THINKS THE SEMINARY CO-OP IS ____________” (pdf). The responses to the latter blank included “a bastion against ignorance and philistinism,” “what taught me the meaning of space,” and “the best!” But my favorite was: “the Seminary Co-op is sui generis.” I picked up one of the blank sheets and put it back down again, deciding that I needed some more time to contemplate before filling it out. I did have one last course book I needed to buy: David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps, a biography of Michael Jordan for my creative writing class. (As a lifelong Chicagoan and Bulls fan, I couldn’t wait to dig into it.) After descending those narrow stairs, checking my backpack, and receiving the worn half of a clothespin, I made my usual beeline to the course books section, located Keeps, and thought, what do I do now? As I pondered my next move, a little girl ran by, dragging her mother by the arm. I caught a snippet of her excited speech: “... all these mazes ... .” I tentatively began my exploration, Michael Jordan in tow. In a large room adjacent to the course books, I ran into a classmate. “Hey,” we said in unision, startled. But we were both focused elsewhere, so the brief greeting was enough. In the westernmost corner I spotted a bespectacled man balancing seven books on his lap, with another open in his hands. Next to him, a young woman sat and read with her bare feet propped up on the chair. Rounding a corner to discover two northeast alcoves I had never encountered before, I heard my sentiments echoed by the woman whose daughter had been pulling her along, now passing by sans guide: “Ooh, haven’t been back here.” In one of the small niches, I settled down in a modest wooden chair. I was surrounded on three sides by vibrant multicolored shelves—Christian theology, I believe they were—and without thinking, I ran my hands over the spines, which felt smooth and cool beneath my fingertips. I felt, for the first time in an especially hectic fall quarter, a sense of deep calm. I opened up Playing for Keeps. Reluctantly leaving that spot, I saw a family of three mingling, examining a few books. The man remarked to his wife, “I’ve given up on Julian Barnes!” His petite daughter, whose Mickey Mouse ears poked out playfully from the top of her head, offered an alternative to her father, “Maybe this colorful one!” I made my way back to the front of store, finally ready to make my purchase. The girl at the register was animatedly discussing the pain of moving. The customer, a retired librarian, was sympathetic. Stepping up, I was asked, as I have been before, if I was a member of the Co-op. I hesitated this time, though, before shaking my head no. I hadn’t bought any stock, but I felt as though I was a part, if small, of the Co-op, or at least, it was a part of me now. Upstairs, I took an unmarked sheet and filled in the lines: Emily thinks the Seminary Co-op is history, lived and living.