I keep telling myself it's not just a matter of age. I'm sitting here in the basement when I should be somewhere out on the road, on my way to Worthington, MN, an hour's drive. But the wind is howling outside--I know, I've been out there. And the snow is driving--and I'm not. I quit. If I was 35, I'd likely be out there bucking snowbanks.
But the snowbanks themselves, still little more than swells across the road, are hard; and when the Aurora (some mythology there, I'd guess) bounced over them just now, the argument for not going, for staying home, got stronger and stronger. The howling wind is from the south, there's warm air coming, the snow will turn eventually into what forecasters call "a wintry mix," which is, I'm telling myself, even more treacherous than just plain driving snow. Ice will make it rough to get there and worse to get home, I told myself. Even if I had arrived, I'm honestly not interested in spending all day somewhere other than here, not when I've got too much to do in the basement.
So here I sit in in silence, in exactly what Emerson famously called "the tumultuous privacy of storm," a simply gorgeous oxymoron. And it feels good. I don't think I want to be out there, but what remains of my own romantic self still spits out a reprimand: "Yeah, well, if you were younger, you know you would have gone."
Heart and head, heart and head--if we knew how to negotiate those dischordant voices, we'd be something other than we are, human beings, frail and given sadly to the horror of second-guessing silliness.
Chalk this decision up to head, not heart. Chalk it up to experience, not daring. Chalk it up to wisdom, not glory. Two roads diverged in an open field before me, and I took the one more traveled, not less, and it won't make much of a difference anyway because the speech is rescheduled for next week.
And so, soon enough, I'll take off my professional attire and wander back upstairs to bed, where my wife will appreciate my return, I'm sure.
I remember, years ago, when my father told me how much he liked going back to bed after being up for awhile. I remember him quoting an old guy named Chet, who worked in the office where he did, a man who once told him that there wasn't another kind of warmth in life that was quite as good as the warmth his wife would offer when he'd crawl back in bed. "It's like nothing else," that old man told him, my father--at the time--probably much younger than I am now.
And I remember thinking it surprising that my father would share that same enthusiasm, my father who'd never really told me much at all about the joy of love, its warmth and comfort. It was surprising to hear him talk about my mother that way--I'm sure that's why I remember. And yet, I found his telling me that story remarkably warm in and of itself. He knew. Not only that, the old guy in the office did too. The song I thought I'd sung alone had already been composed for a choir, a whole men's chorus.
One of my own ex-students and I have been keeping up a conversation lately. She's seeing someone, and he's interested in writing. The way she describes it, I don't think I'd be wrong to say that writing, for him, must be a passion. She's nurturing this relationship in all sorts of ways, I imagine--one of them being asking her old prof what kinds of writing I might suggest him to read. She says her old prof and this man she's seeing, also an academic, have similar interests. Okay, I'm honored in the request--I admit it.
This morning, she told me that she was fully capable of talking about other things too--she wanted me to know she was still fully capable of multi-tasking. I mean, her e-mails have been almost totally about this guy. She didn't want me to think that was all that was going on in her life--she's finishing a masters, in fact.
Okay, okay--I told her. No matter. I loved the music in her tale. I smile when I read her notes. Honestly, it's a joy just to hear her talk. Not that she goes on and on about this guy's virtues or whatever--it's just a small, good thing to hear her care for him. Honestly, it's a blessing.
So this morning I told her as much. One of the benefits of being around kids is that you get to watch 'em fall in love. And I don't care how old I get--that's always something worth observing. I'm not sure it keeps me young, but it sure enough keeps me smiling. So don't apologize. Just keep it coming, I told her.
That having been said, I'm off. I quit for now. Outside, the wind is howling, the snow is crystallizing, and down here in the basement I keep telling myself that I made the right decision in staying here, staying home. There's always a next week.
I've said enough. I'm going back to bed because, as an old guy named Chet used to tell my father, there's no warmth quite like what awaits me in the bed where my wife, as I speak, is waiting. No warmth at all.
I ought to tell my ex-student that, like my own father did; but what's life itself without, now and then, some precious discoveries of one's own.
And thus ends the reflections of an old man who lacked the chutzpah to take an hour's drive--or more--in the snow this morning, who listened to his head, not his heart, who took the road more traveled.
Call me a chicken. I'm not repenting. Right now, I've got a preciously warm place in this morning's tumultuous privacy of storm and that's enough to warm the heart.