Battling School Vampires With Dr. Van Helsing
This past Christmas break, I had the pleasure of reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time. I didn’t know it, but the book was preparing me for another semester of work at The Saint Constantine School. Now, I’m not necessarily trying to draw comparisons between the work of teaching at TSCS and the work of defeating a bloodthirsty vampire in a pitched battle of wit and will, but there are many ways in which teaching at TSCS is like trying to defeat a bloodthirsty vampire in a pitched battle of wit and will.
While we at TSCS do not fight any actual vampires, we fight a daily struggle against vice, complacency, and the spirit of the age. These, like Stoker’s vampires, seek to drain us—students and faculty alike—of life and happiness. Thus, I shall let the words of Dr. Van Helsing encourage us all as we trudge through the beginnings of the Spring semester together.
We must be unified.
There are strange and terrible days before us. Let us not be two, but one, that so we work to a good end.
The protagonists of Dracula progress through the beginning of the narrative as individuals, each encountering and struggling against the monster in their own ways. Alone, these men and women stand little chance against the behemoth that faces them. It is not until our heroes are united that they gain the hope of victory.
Our fight is much the same. We must be united in our pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. As one, we battle down our own complacency, our insecurity, and our fear. This work must be done in a unified community.
I am naturally blinded to my own shortcomings; it is in community that they are seen and exorcised. This is a painful, arduous work, but it is vital to the health of ourselves and the health of the school. If we ignore these enemies and let their work fester in our midst, we risk the rot of our very souls.
Together we keep watch against the enemies of the dialectic, those of us who are strong and well-rested watching over those who are weak and battered down. We continually cover one another’s weaknesses, protecting one another in community as we pursue virtue together. Staring down the difficulties set before us, we work to the end of Wisdom, Virtue, and Joy as one.
We must sacrifice for one another.
No man knows till he experiences it, what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loves.
This unity is neither simple nor cheap. It can only be forged by love, true love that sacrifices its own life-blood for the good of the beloved. In the narrative, this sacrifice happens literally: the beloved, drained of blood, will die without the sacrifice of the lover. It is in light of this sacrifice, offered by each to the other, that the vampire-fighting community of Dracula is formed.
Because members of a community must love one another, they must sacrifice for one another. The work of sacrifice is the profoundest act of love. It demands unselfishness, that I not look after my own needs but after the needs of those I work with and those I teach.
To be a member of a unified community is to forsake myself to serve those I love. One cannot pursue Truth selfishly; this way lies danger. The strength of our community, which protects us, relies on our sacrificing for it.
The gray hairs on my not-even-twenty-seven-year-old head are a sign of love. To love students wholly and serve my coworkers well is to sacrifice some degree of my life for them. My colleagues exhibit this same love to me. This creed of mutual self-sacrifice serves as a primary foundation for the work that TSCS accomplishes.
We must trudge on.
We and you too will have to pass through the bitter water before we reach the sweet. But we must be brave of heart and unselfish, and do our duty, and all will be well!
Throughout Dracula, the heroes pass through a multitude of difficult moments. Fighting a vampire is a long, arduous, dismal process. As the adventure progresses, Dr. Van Helsing continuously encourages the group that difficulty precedes blessing and that faithfulness will be rewarded, if not in this life then in the next. When fighting vampires, pain and peril are guaranteed; happiness dwells on the other side of a long fight well fought.
This maxim is true when fighting all vampires, whether actual or metaphorical. The difficulties presented by living and working in the real world guarantee bitter waters just as Stoker’s vampires do.
Moreover, the treatment Van Helsing prescribes for his intrepid band is much the same I’d prescribe for ours. For our students and our faculty: “we must pass through the bitter water before we reach the sweet. We must be brave of heart and unselfish, and do our duty, and all will be well!”
When difficulty faces us, when the long, slow trudge of the semester seems an unconquerable wasteland, we must venture forth with courage. The fight will not be short, and it will not be easy; honestly and earnestly pursuing Virtue, Wisdom, and Joy never is. But nevertheless, we must press on. If Van Helsing and friends can fight a vampire, we can do the lifelong work of pursuing the Good together.