I was driving over a bridge in central Wisconsin last week when I happened to glance out the window. Underneath me, some sixty feet below, was a wide river flowing at a gentle pace. As it was, I turned just in time to see a large fish-bass or trout maybe- jump out of the water and splash back into the river before the bridge rolled onto highway and the whole scene was a remnant in the rear view.
I was in the Midwest for my girlfriend’s graduation; we’d both attended the same university, though we were two years apart. It was with a sense of nostalgia that I strolled through my old campus. The fresh cut lawns screamed with the completion of finals, opportunity, new horizons, chances to climb and chances to fall, new days that would hold sometimes love and other times hurt. I passed by some of my old classrooms, ate in the cafeteria, and even ran into old professors. As with many things of this nature, I remarked on the fact that in two short years the campus had hardly changed; I couldn’t say the same for myself. With memories comes inevitable introspection.
Passing one of the buildings, I recalled the astronomy class I’d taken. Science courses were a requirement and, being single at the time, I figured if I had to knock out homework with some co-ed, I might as well be star gazing and call it a cheap date. Two birds with one stone was one of my favorite collegiate idioms.
As with most wonderful things in life, astronomy class was nothing near what I expected. My professor was the type of brilliant genius who didn’t realize he was a genius, which might sound like a good trait but resulted in the lack of normal vocabulary in class; I knew times were desperate when I breathed a sigh of recognition and relief at the word “electromagnetic”. The only romance I encountered in that course was a one night affair when I fell asleep while studying and drooled over the textbook’s portion on Halley’s Comet. Later, of course, I realized the comet was named after a man and so the whole ordeal was counted as a loss.
For all the things I didn’t gain from my astronomy class, one thing it gave me was my inability to look into the sky and feel anything but trite, stupid and insignificant. There is no way I could do otherwise after surviving a semester’s worth of information on distant galaxies and stars. It’s a gift I carried with me for the rest of college, through the death of a friend, the end of relationships, looming rents and tiny paychecks. Even the nights when I doubted my faith, which was the very fabric that held all this together, I still retained the gift to look into the sky and, if just for a moment, feel the immense insignificance of my greatest doubts.
Its all too easy to forget that my life is part of something much bigger than myself, much bigger than my nation and much bigger than my world. There is an inevitable and selfish desire to view everything in relation to who I am. Grades, graduation and journeys over the bridges I chose, take center stage of importance in my mind. But I am, in the grand scheme of things, terribly unimportant. Two years ago my graduation was a significant event in a small life; when I finally understood that, I finally saw it’s true beauty.
My insignificance does not cheat me of beauty, rather it gifts it too me in a cup that overflows. A punctuation mark in a sentence is not denied magnificence when it’s informed of its tiny role in a grand novel. There is no beauty punctuation itself that; no one will remember a period, comma or question mark in the long run; though the breath-taking and final chapters of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, strewn with these iotas of significance, many will remember well. My true beauty can only be found in the tiny, insignificance of who I really am.
I am a fish jumping out of the water, rising to my momentary desires, in a river that is passed over by the bridge of time. I am a punctuation point in a paragraph in the middle of a chapter and, sometimes, even an ending. I will swim, write and declare my life’s purpose amidst many others and then the page will turn. When graduation leads to life and life from whence it came, my role will be forgotten, but the story will move on. The water will flow and time will carry what’s left of me towards the grand promise of Love.
In the mean time, I will search. And in my insignificance, I will find true beauty.