I was walking in from my run today when a shoebox caught my eye. It was sitting by the fence outside our apartment. Inside of it was a coffee mug. Perhaps “mug” is too generous a term, and I’m not sure it would hold even half a cup of coffee. But it was a ceramic cup in some fashion or another, decorated in a vintage sort of blue, which was vibrantly attractive and colorful. Yet, there it was, abandoned in this shoebox, half buried in the leaves.
Lately I’ve gotten into a wonderfully invigorating habit of directing angry rants toward my Hebrew homework. After hours and hours of memorizing the Semitic tongue, my brain becomes so muddled that I begin to lose it. No one else hears but my paradigms take one hell of a verbal beating, like a puppy that just peed on my favorite flannel shirt. At the end of these barrages I’ll admit that I’m a little bit impressed; I’d forgotten I could curse so efficiently.
I picked up the shoebox and carried the mug inside where I washed it. Our apartment is littered with coffee mugs, most of them having a much greater utilitarian value than this one. But I just couldn’t stand the thought of it sitting in a garbage heap somewhere. I like to think I’m a romantic in that way. My roommate, on the other hand, says that I’m a pack rat. I can’t necessarily blame him; I stored the coffee mug in a cabinet with his things.
I have to ask myself, sometimes day after day, why I write. I’m often aghast to realize I don’t give a diddlysquat what I’m about to type, a notion that is even more defeating when I realize that neither does anyone else. I can’t blame them; there are more important things to do and read.
I have to stop reading the news because I’m inundated with tragedy. I heard of a plane crash the other day and was startled by my half-hearted reaction to a single digit death toll; “that’s not too bad”. Every week, I am mailed brochures from different charities bringing some need from somewhere else to my attention. Some days, I throw these in the trash and continue on with my life. Other times, I pick up my phone, recite some digits from my credit card, and then continue on with my day. Neither of these adds any jewel to my crown though the later grants the delusion of charity.
There are times when I don’t yell at my Hebrew homework. There are times when I look at my Hebrew flash cards and wonder why I bother; this has already translated into my language. There are days when I sit down to write and count the number of people who may read it; the small number weighs down my pen and I quickly put it down. I become tired; the sun shines grey and the world around me is calloused and boring. The best remaining option is to stuff my face with Twinkies and absorb as many daytime sitcoms as possible.
My most dangerous moments are not those of anger but apathy. Job could’ve done a whole lot worse than prompting God to rebuke Him. One of you will betray me, Jesus said and Judas hardly heard him, didn’t even raise an eye. Perhaps he was too busy thinking of what he’d do with a handful of coins he would later realize he didn’t care about either. Perhaps he just didn’t care in general.
When discussing her career as a poet Kathleen Norris noted that poetry acts as a remedy for the human tendency to run from the world and take refuge in indifference. Today I returned to my Hebrew studies. Within minutes, I was frustrated and cursing like a sailor. When I arrive at the pearly gates I expect a slap on the wrist from Peter for the language that made Mother Mary blush. But I cared, I’ll appeal to him, I really cared.
That is why I write, I say to the masses who still aren’t reading. It is why I pick up coffee mugs from the sidewalk, wash them and stow them away. I write not because I need to be reminded that I am important, that never works. Instead I write because I need to be reminded that somewhere out there Something Is. I need to remember, against statistics, tragedy, apathy, Twinkies and the otherwise grey surrounded me. I need to be reminded that there is color, beautiful, brilliant and captivating color sitting dejected in a shoebox on the sidewalk and that maybe that’s just my job. Maybe my role in something big is to pick up coffee mugs and point out the color. Even if only to keep myself from slipping away.