Cursing At Hebrew And Picking Up Coffee Mugs

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.


Jumping Fish and Graduations

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.