Saturday, November 19, 2016

you are part of my listening

The boy is silhouetted perfectly by street light in the glass bubble of the car. Although his metal SUV could crush my small Toyota, it seems like a fragile cage to carry precious cargo. Not much seems to be separating us right now. The light shines on us both. As his mother hits the accelerator, his body lurches forward as the car is set in motion. His face never changes, his eyes still locked ahead on the road running out into the snowy dark.

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It was jarring, as I took the young girl's hand, to find that I sounded different. My voice sounded like my own, but felt like it was coming from a different place. My insides felt older. I helped her with the steps of the dance, and I felt a space inside of me that is used to cold-calling students in the back of the classroom, decipher note-taking from note-passing, and teach four year-olds dance moves open up. I hadn't even realized it had been closed. I was exercising muscles that hadn't been used in a long time, muscles I had forgotten that I wasn't using. Like flirting, after having not-flirting for a long time. You forgot that there was this whole skill set you hadn't drawn on in months. And you flex your flirting muscles, delighted to notice that they still work, their soreness only a testament to the exercise you've given them.

But this was a different set of muscles, one completely foreign to a university campus. It felt sort of like I was a teacher. But what it really felt like is that I was an adult. In a non-university world, the sharp division in the world is not classifications of strata of students, in the real world the simple question is: are you a child? Or are you an adult? And it's very difficult to always know that you're an adult--fully and truly an adult--without children around. But, in responding to a child, it becomes very clear that you are no longer one. Something inside of you shifts, to orient your posture differently into a stance of service towards this sweet Other who is still so acutely becoming. In helping that young girl learn the contradance I felt the supreme responsibility of adulthood, and I liked it. I felt more human.

The contradance was held in a wing of the church building that had slick wooden floors and a beautiful dome of glass, that I swear was something right out of James Cameron's Titanic. There was a balcony with arched alcoves which only lacked spectators to be something out of a posh 19th-century opera. Filling the dance floor was a collection of people who are my neighbors. Together, we gracefully (some more than others) bumbled our way through steps of the dance, learning new patterns and steps.

We were all learners here: the graduate students, the families, the couples on a Saturday night date, the elderly folks, the regal woman with the elegant taffeta skirt and script name tag, the sisters in bright dresses, the young woman in swinging skirts, the woman still in her grocery store shift shirt, the boys in jeans and hoodies, and the boy in the tartan kilt. The dance was the great equalizer: we were all novices and partners--partners in creating something beautiful.

This was a moment when the physical world seems to peel away, and although the scene hasn't changed, it is slightly brighter and more solemn. Some simple and stunning reality hits you square in the face, and it's a vision of a world exactly the way it is which is lovelier than the way you usually see it. As I danced alongside my neighbors, I felt that this was the heavenly banquet. That these are the saints who I will share heaven with--not some vague, fancy strangers out in the distant night--these are the people who are my reality, and they are the ones who are shining like the sun. Heaven is not populated with glamorous hypothetical humans: it is made up of the people we pass by each day. How much more fitting it is to dance with them than simply pass them by.

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South Bend bled the sun out of the sky, in a terrible, testosterone-fueled nectarine burst of color. The vicious sunset colored the historic old mansions in nostalgic hues of mauve and rose. The stars were hidden behind the banks of clouds leaking bits of snow in to the fierce winds whipping up our scarves. The lights of St. Paul's shone grandly in the dark of the deserted intersection of Colfax and La Porte. The church was warm and elegant on the inside, an eloquent testament to human grandeur in the dreary bleakness of this November town.

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