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Free the Chairs

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

The chairs are gone. That was my first thought as I ran by the bend in the Crum this morning, and passed the spot where the two folding chairs have been sitting companionably side-by-side for the past few weeks. But no, when I slowed down I could see them. There they are, in the middle of the creek, their metal feet enjoying the cool water as it burbles over their rubber toes.

My sense of relief was enormous. Since I first saw the chairs there in early June, I have taken vicarious pleasure in their relaxed pose by the banks of the Crum. I found myself thinking about them from time to time during the day. How nice to spend the day sitting by the creek in the leafy green of early summer, I thought. Just what I wish to do myself: if the pace ever slows; if I can ever get out from under the work and chores and family schedules; if I can savor even one day that retains the bright promise of its morning.

But in spite of their restful pose, these chairs are not innocent. These are lost chairs, wanted chairs, escaped chairs. They are chairs that have rejected their corporate purpose and made a courageous break for freedom. I discovered this when I read the all-campus email on the Faculty-Staff Digest after Alumni Weekend, announcing that some chairs had gone missing. I had already seen the two suspicious-looking chairs down by the Crum. Before I could think what to do to rescue them, two other staff members had replied to Facilities over the faculty-staff digest reporting the presence of the AWOL chairs.

It was then that I realized we must start a movement. Free the chairs! Responding to my invitation, a number of people have already written to me about the chairs. They are hot chairs that had wandered away from the crowd to cool off by the creek. They are sad chairs that need some time to grieve. They are sneaky chairs. They are amorous chairs, looking for a place that will respect their special love, free of the chaironormative paradigm. They are rebellious chairs, tired of being arranged in straight rows or perfect circles. They are angelic chairs, offering a quiet rest to anyone who wanders by. They are Quaker chairs, taking some time out in silence and reverence in the midst of nature.

And this is why we must save the chairs, don’t you see? However they got there, those chairs are there now to receive our projections, our imaginings, and our contemplative thoughts on a long day in the car or the office. We are the ones who are hot or frustrated, sad or sneaky, amorous or rebellious, angelic or spiritual. The chairs, lost from their usual regimented routine, have found a place in our imagination. They have claimed a subversive freedom about which most of us only dream. They offer us hope.

These chairs are not lost. No, they have found their souls. Whether we pass them in the Crum, or only imagine them sitting there in contemplative silence, they give us a glimpse of what we long for: A quiet bend in the river with water burbling over stones, a leafy green bower dappled with golden light, layers of bird song over the syncopated rhythm of the woodpecker’s tattoo. So I say: Free the chairs! Let’s join our voices and demand that Facilities release them from their servitude. It is the Quaker thing to do.

Join my Facebook group called “Free the Chairs!” If we get enough members, we can apply to Rebecca Chopp and ask her to grant them a presidential pardon. And in the meantime, this is my advice to you on this first day of summer. Follow their example. Get lost!