Monday, October 17, 2011
She was, as I remember, among the brightest kids I had back then, certainly the most well-read. Even as a freshman she was outstanding, as if her high school English classes had taken place on some other planet than the rest of the students'. I'd refer to the Fireside Poets, to Irving or the naturalists, and she'd know who I was talking about. She was energetic, industrious, always on time, ever poised for action, as if every class were the state finals.
In faith, she was effervescent, a model of piety, the kind of person who could have written a how-to on late-teen devotion. If she'd been my classmate, years ago, I would have felt like sludge around her. I don't doubt, some kids did.
She was perfect.
And this, despite the fact that her shoulders carried more burdens than most all of her peers. There may have been other kids who'd come from brokenness, but few of those homes, I'd guess, were still smoldering. She never told me herself, but I learned that this particular divorce was painfully rancorous. That she was here, miles away, might well have been a blessing. She might have come here precisely for that reason, to not be there.
And then her mother died, of cancer, I believe.
But through more tribulations than any kid should ever suffer, she never showed a moment's questioning. At least in my presence, she never lost it, was never anything less than a militant Christian; with her homework, she never missed a due date. Sometimes, I think I grieved for her when I thought that she seemed so alone, without family--but alone also in the manner by which people who burn with her level of incandescence can, with malice toward none, put everyone else in the room, even admirers, in deep, dark shadows. Sometimes the perfect is, in fact, the enemy of the good.
Many years have passed. She's no longer a student. But last night I sat a few rows behind her in church, her shoulder scrunched against the tall and handsome guy beside her, a man who more than occasionally looked down at her with what people call cow eyes, a look more than frequently--I know, I watched--most appreciatively reciprocated. The two of them are in love. They have a distinguishable, glorious aura. You can't miss it.
They were in church together, and while I'm sure she probably heard the sermon, appreciated the singing, got herself inspired by something at least, what the two of them gave witness to was something completely other than the eighth commandment--"thou shalt not kill"--the subject of the sermon.
Let me rethink that. Had the preacher been able to do what I'm somewhat surreptitiously doing right now, he might simply have tossed his notes. The eighth commandment, of course, is not simply a decree not to kill, but a divine directive to uphold others, to raise them up, to love. "Okay," our preacher might have said, "if you all want to know the upshot of the eighth commandment, just take the rest of the night and watch these two lovebirds in the third row."
I certainly did.
We sit on chairs in church. What my star ex-student didn't know was that everyone sitting behind her couldn't miss the fact that her small shoulder was, for most of the night, mostly on his chair, tucked darling-ly in his. I don't want to be impious, but the blessing of worship last night was what was generously on display in front of us--young love, ever an inspiration.
She's not just any kid either. She knows sadness. She's rarely showed any of the scars she has had to sustain. She's always tried to show her best.
But in my book she's never once looked as pure as she did last night, giving herself away.
The blessing of worship last night was the object lesson about love on such radiant, selfless display in the third row. Not unrelated at all to the sermon.
I came away smiling. Inspired.
This morning's thanks.