“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” -The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Last week, a rare snowstorm from Russia jetted southwest. “The Beast from the East,” as it was called, left countries in Western Europe in an unfamiliar state: frozen.
The canals in Amsterdam became mazes for ice skaters. Rome was a different planet—its ancient ruins creeping out from a white slush. London stood still, yet somehow, it was also chaos.
And then there was the much smaller scale—a manor house full of Americans that stood just outside a town in Lincolnshire.
For locals who know nothing of snow, The Beast was a foreigner who crept up on them and did its worst. Driving cars—for them—was like driving for the first time.
For the students at Harlaxton, The Beast was a parent telling them they couldn’t go out. I watched as every mode of transportation slowly lost its breath, taking the students’ weekend travel plans down with them. Some students managed to get out before every plane, train, and car to London halted, but for most Harlaxton students, the money, time, and energy they put into their trips disintegrated. They were “stuck” in our castle for the weekend.
But for me, The Beast brought me to a place where beauty is an injustice. I was on duty for the weekend, so I didn’t plan on leaving the manor even before the snow. I let myself feel the magic around me. The manor became some sort of a movie set or a poem’s title. The place I get to call home for a while somehow became even more breathtaking. I was in Narnia.
You’ve seen The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. You recall the world that stood frozen in the most aesthetically-pleasing way imaginable. That was Harlaxton Manor for an entire week. Every day, the snow would start to melt, but every night, new powder would fall, leaving my home pristine every morning.
I stood speechless marveling at the building’s presence draped in white. It was art.
But I had a job to do in Narnia. After all, I was on duty. I was in charge if things went wrong, and for most Harlaxton students, their weekends started off very wrong. So I sprang into action.
I went to my computer and made a quick graphic—an itinerary. In it, I planned a weekend full of fun—the kind of fun you’d have if you were a kid at home from school on a snow day. I planned movie-viewing parties. Board game events. A hide-and-seek tournament. Coloring page meet-ups. And a necessary old-fashioned snowball fight.
I built it, and they came. They loved it, and I loved it. I watched as they became children again, and as they played their games and watched their movies, they began to appreciate the chilly beauty outside too. For a weekend, we were not world-traveling adults with responsibilities and cancelled plans. We were kids playing in the snow. We just happened to be in a castle.
Everything was perfect… well except one girl tried to test the frozen pond on the manor grounds and fell through. And one guy spilled hot cocoa all over someone’s homework. And a student slipped and fell on me during the snowball fight and sprained my ankle which caused me to hobble around for the whole weekend.
But alas, it was perfect.
What started out as the worst weekend at Harlaxton became one of the best. And as the snow melted and the next week began, we watched our wonderland fade, but we were thankful for wiggling through the wardrobe to Narnia.