Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where To Be Or Not To Be?

Tuesday as I descended the front steps of JMU’s Keezell Hall, I decided for the first time not to hurry down the Quad.

Today I will stroll. Then I notice the students. Some walk alone deep in thought or looking around at the scene and scenery. And the scenery is something to behold on this cool October day. The huge old oaks around the Quad are starting to turn color. The muted yellow and orange hues seem almost to hallow the space.

Some students walk in pairs chatting. Two young men in front of me, as we approach the tunnel, become fascinated with the antics of a grey squirrel. You know how erratic squirrels’ movements can be, as if they can’t make up their minds which way to go. The one boy was imitating the squirrel’s undecidedness, jerking his head and body this way and that; they both laughed aloud.

What was so unusual about this scene? It was like I’d walked into opposite world. On a Tuesday several weeks ago, it was this: Each of the hundreds of students on the Quad was either texting, talking on their phone or listening to music with headphones. Two students stood together around their bicycles, gazing down at their phones, texting. A couple laid on the grass, each of them texting someone else in another place.

Usually, most students walk with their phones in their hands, as if it were an appendage. Sometimes I wonder if evolution will cause this to happen: for humans to be born clutching a tiny cell phone. Or perhaps undergo some surgery that will attach their cell phones to their bodies so as not to lose them. This could become important when cell phones contain all of our vital information: our ID cards, passports, credit cards, driver’s license.

But this Tuesday, nobody is carrying their cell. Did I miss something? Was Tuesday declared a non-handheld day?

The husband comments at dinner that I am a later than usual arriving home. Just five or ten minutes. I tell him about the scene on the Quad. I tell him about deciding to stroll and how I am usually not where I am but already mentally in the place I am headed.

Actually, it started a few minutes before that, when I stayed after class to talk with my professor rather than rushing out the door. Such is my usual rate of propulsion, as if I’m training for the Women’s 4-Miler. Often, I wish to be where I am going: “I wish I was in my car” or “I wish I was home already” or, on some days, “I wish I was in bed, reading.”


This week, I began reading my Bible again in the mornings. I use a devotional guide, which goes by themes in the church year. There’s a Psalm for the week, a prayer, then a list of Bible readings, one for each day, and then about a dozen quotes from various writers and spiritual people through the ages.

The theme for this week’s readings is “Eating the Bread of Anxious Toil.” Ha! How did I happen to pick up this small leather volume after neglecting it for months?

It has not been easy, becoming the “breadwinner” in the family. In this recession, I fret (yes, fret!) about how long we will survive. My mind—usually at 1:34 a.m.—sometimes takes me away from the present, when all really is well, on a downward spiral of job loss, foreclosure, homelessness.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
—Psalm 127:2

And then: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … .”


As I write this, it is raining, raining on my tin roof, each drop a moment, raining moments, moments of thirst and satisfaction, both. My job allows me to work at home one or two days a week, depending on what’s going on, what needs to be done.

The desk in my home office faces two windows. Outside one window is a thick lilac bush and outside the other are two maple trees; beyond all is the woods, the wet woods, yellow leaves sotted to the ground.

Inside, my Tuscan yellow walls are golden, warm, hallowed. This moment is as perfect as it can be.

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