I ran into one of my professors a few weeks after graduation.
“Oh!” he said, as if I were a solicitor he’d left sitting on the doorstep. “Why—you’re still here!”
I told him I’d found a job in the area.
“Well, good. It’s not such a bad place to be, I ‘spose.”
“No,” I replied. “I don’t suppose it is.”
There’s a lull over the seminary campus these past few days. The classrooms are empty, the lights turned off. The chapel is quiet, the cafeteria sparsely populated. Moving trucks appear then vanish in the night like guilty gypsies, stealing corners of the community as they go.
“I know Paradise is real which we have lost,” the poet Evan S. Connell writes. “But find again through the gates of memory.”
He continues with a question: “should I mark more than shining hours?”
I saw something beautiful today. Problem is, I can’t- for the life of me- remember what it was. I walked several laps around the kitchen searching for a glimmer of revelation; through the bedroom and bathroom, pausing at the entry of each like a grandfather: “what did I come here for?” I even submitted myself to the gratuitous task of finishing off a bag of chocolate chips from the pantry (I heard somewhere that chocolate is a memory food, but I can’t remember where).
It’s been three years since I moved to this small coastal town to begin my seminary studies. I came for a degree; I earned a degree. I should be happy. And I am, I suppose.
I often joked that I didn’t want to go to seminary because I’d rather not lose my faith. Here I am on the flipside of that joke and sometimes it doesn’t seem so funny. I’ve not lost faith, mind you. But I have lost my faith, the personal ownership I had on the moral code and divine communication that propped up walls of defense around my comfort zone. I’ve lost that.
(An hour later, I still can’t recall that beautiful memory.)
After hurricane Sandy swept through New York and flooded some of the subways, scientists took samples of molecules from the tunnel walls and cars. Among these they found molecular echoes of organisms only known to exist in Antarctica.
I find this reassuring. It settles within me the conviction that all things are foreknown by a being who loves to view the stars from an infinitude of different angles; nothing is normal enough to not be wonderful.
A couple years ago I began writing essays: one a week, every week, always capped at eight hundred words. To myself (and any bloke unfortunate enough to be trapped in the conversation at a social gathering) I called them ‘small essays on small wonders.’ Some of them I’m not even sure what I was talking about. Others were almost profound. But all of them were hash marks, photographs, murals on a city wall: a metronome marking off my days in seminary in ¾ time (click…tick, tick…click…tick, tick).
I just walked another lap around my apartment, I even peaked my head out the window. What on earth am I trying to remember?
My seminary education is over; it happened, completed, flew by, wallah! This chapter of my life is closing in on me, with every classmate who disappears in a U-Haul and every professor who’s slightly startled with my remaining. Every week I’ve face my literary vendetta with all the cynicism in the world. But every week beauty rises up and conquers.
Life happens slowly; still it goes by so fast. And the conundrum of human existence is answered in tiny whispers: a tire swing, cardboard box, abandoned coffee mug, carpet stain and melting ice. The little moments save us from the big questions. The shining hours burn out like fireworks: brilliant and spectacular. And the crowd cheers, couples kiss, then later- as they’re walking home- a mother notices her child has stopped and is perfectly still, staring up into the sky.
“The stars,” he says, “Mom, look at the stars.”
There’s so much beauty, so much pain in this world. But I’m comforted by the fact that I can’t remember all of it. And if I believe anything, I believe that somehow the beautiful outweighs the evil; that the darkness of night is a means by which the stars appear so beautiful. There are a million beautiful things I overlook, ignore, take for granted or pass by- everyday and everywhere. And yet, they remain. I’m going to call this ‘grace.’
I’ve tried to capture that grace. Still it eludes me, enfolds me and holds me. Like grace does; like we hope; like we are.
I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it- but I still can’t remember the beautiful something I saw.
I suppose I’ll put that to rest.