Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Words, words, words

We were young, just parents, and he was our landlord--a brilliant mind, I'm quite sure. He'd drop by and talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. He never stopped. He was a theologian, a retired preacher. We used to roll our eyes when finally he'd pick up his hat.

I remember once, back then, when our own pastor stopped by for an annual visit the Dutch sometimes still refer to as huis bezoek. He was with an elder, a colleague of mine. That night, that preacher talked and talked and talked and talked--a full hour. I don't know that anyone else even said a word. The next day that colleague told me he was deeply impressed with the preacher because even though the man talked all night, he was marvelously perceptive about the people with whom he'd visited. I thought my colleague--a sweet, sweet man--on that one was utterly daft .

Thirty years ago, I told myself I was never going to become an old preacher. I wouldn't let myself go on and on. And here I am, on a blog.

It's not just preachers--it's profs too. We're mightily susceptible to perpetual yapping, accustomed as we are to the sound of our own voices. What's more, we're also accustomed to people listening, students or parishoners. We've spent lifetimes holding forth.

Yesterday morning was sheer disaster--I won't count the ways. The low point happened just outside my door, when I was running late and my unopened school bag slipped from my shoulder, dumping its contents into the powdery snow over the driveway in the pitch darkness of early, early morning. I couldn't even see what had to be picked up.

I think the Lord allows a smidgeon of vulgarity every fortnight or so, so I registered my allotment, then took off my gloves and retrieved all that snowy stuff, jammed it back in the bag, and walked off. It was, maybe, 6:30, inky dark.

Against the streetlights, it was clear to me that the morning that had been a disaster in the basement--class preps, computer snafus--was going to be a gem outside. Through the amber glow of streetlights, the hoarfrost on the trees was already beginning to appear. Lots of people hate cold weather, with good reason; but when the Lord almighty outfits naked trees in perfect white gloves, if you forget the temperature you might just think you're in heaven. Even in the darkness, the maples and lindens--utterly shorn of leaves--were noiselessly clapping their hands.

And I told myself the only place I'd like to be right now is anywhere other than where I'm going, somewhere west, somewhere along the Missouri River, somewhere with my camera, trying to capture at least something of what was certainly going to be a drop-dead gorgeous morning. Maybe up north at some frozen Minnesota lake. That'd be fine too.

That's what I was thinking when I was walking to school, still brushing off snow. I want to be gone. I want to be away. I want to be by myself somewhere west or north, alone in all this glory. I don't want to face students that'll show up in an hour. I don't want to talk about passive verbs or--God forbid!--wordiness. I just want to leave. I want to be by myself.

I don't want to hear the sound of my own voice. I want to high-tail it, like Huck.

Instead, I walked to school, where I talked some more, like an old preacher.

Maybe that's why the fantasy haunts me again this morning, even without the provocation, even as the words appear mysteriously from the white silence on the screen before me.

Last night, with a gaggle of students, we read Rilke, some beautiful devotional poems that felt like intimate whispers to God. They're not meant to be read in a group. I'd take him along, I promise. I don't want to talk. I want to learn.

Someplace west, I want the silence to teach me.

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