Sunday, February 18, 2018

from the library window

For my birthday, a friend gave me a small paperback book whose cover is black with a very pensive profile of an unspecified primate, which looks to me like a female mandrill, gazing upwards at the dark starless heavens of the book cover.

It is filled with folksy stories, sort of fairy tales for the technological age. One of them mentions offhand how sometimes recording our lives destroys our ability to experience them.

As my reflexive reaction to any occurrence inside my heart or my social sphere is to pick up a pen and take it instantly to paper, I felt particularly indicted by this statement.

I felt confirmed in my overweening journalistic tendencies when reading Schillebeeckx's Christ the Experience of God, when he speaks of the human tendency, or even, the necessity of human nature, to selectively remember the past, and use that manicured image of the past as a hermeneutic for our present and future action.

The more one records the past, the more one is hit square in the face with the unpleasant facticity of one's own history. Thus, moving forward means we have to accommodate all the parts of the story we would perhaps rather forget. This more comprehensive remembrance is costly: in the pain, embarrassment, and discomfort it causes our egos. But its reward is a more authentic version of our selves and the lives we live, a richer story, which resonates with all the various chapters of our past, weaving them back into our present day narrative, echoing what was beautiful, alluding to the painful themes, recalling the good and the bad and building something strong, cohesive, and singular.

At least, so I hope.

Graduate studies could be aptly summed up in the movement between two moments. My soul is constantly ping-ponging between the thinkers I lay it at the mercy of through reading, and they slap my mind back and forth between their paddles, battered with one argument then the other. The trajectory of thought sharply turning with each new philosopher encountered. On the other side of this dialectic ping-pong game, hopefully we will land in some semblance of synthesis, and rest—finally—in wisdom.

At least, that's the hope.

Recently, the weather in South Bend has been a table tennis match between the gods of sun and snow. Last weekend, a weather front and the perennial culprit—"Lake Effect"—dumped gallons of snow on campus. As I walked back to my dorm from the library each day for most of the past week, I got to enjoy the the trees of God quad turned into a beautiful little forest of crystal-encrusted trees. For the greater part of the week, the snow remained fresh and soft. The trees were weighed down by snow which the wind couldn't whip off of it. Each day, I would marvel at its silent sweetness in the sunrise, or how it sparkled under the cold winter stars and chill street lamps, how it wrapped the busy sidewalks in calm, and how beautiful this little wooded patch of lawn looked in its snow-coat.

I would remind myself as I dodged the ice on the front steps running out of the dorm each morning, that to walk out of your front door into this beauty is a rare delight and privilege.

Yesterday, I walked back to the dorm from the library, and was depressed by all the dirty, salt-sullied drifts of snow that lined the sidewalk, the snowmelt that dripped off the tree branches to form impassable puddles of muddy water on the sidewalk, and the dreariness of snow mixed with dirt, endemic to late-winter and early spring.

I couldn't even remember the beauty of the snow which I had enjoyed all week.

That evening, I walked out of a windowless chapel into thick, wet clumps of snowflakes falling from the grey sky. An impromptu gift of that most fickle deity, Lake Effect, and it covered the brown salt-crusted snow with a clean page.

It is important to record small moments of beauty in the snow, otherwise they'll get lost in all the sludge that the rapid passage of seasons produces.

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