Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gravel and Stars

July 9, 2014
Yesterday afternoon I took a trip to Apple Valley in my mother's small black Volkswagon. My clothes were studious and classy, rather than the loose well-worn dresses I'd been adventuring in these past weeks spend out in Knox County. I looked serious and professional. Isn't this backtracking? I thought to myself. I liked the idea of being less a student and more a person with zeal for truth. But dark wash Guess jeans and $100 leather penny loafers that looked overwhelmingly scholastic brought back reminders of Saturdays spent in Nu Pi Kappa reading room reading Ayn Rand's first novel, wondering what mission I would undertake in the modern world. Wondering, not discovering. I am no longer a wonderer.

I didn't think of today's task as one that could bring about too much discovery, however. I was only fulfilling a hope that seemed pretty straightforward. A duty. I was going to see an affiliated scholar of the college, with the intent of ripening our friendship. On my drive over, I recalled the day I met her. I was a freshman at the time, attending a lectureship on Theodicy: Lazarus. I remember scanning Brandi, its shiny wood walls echoing with verses from scripture. I was confused. Why were the professors of philosophy so distant, disinterested? I noticed one of them had a pad of yellow lined paper. He had titled the page, dated it, and held his pencil just above the wide lines. But after an hour had passed, not a single note had been jotted down! Yet... my heart was racing, trying to iron every sentence into the fabric of my brain!

My friend raised her hand. I don't remember the comment she made, but I knew instantly that I wanted to meet her. Afterwards I ran up to her and introduced myself, not forgetting my status of freshman. The questions What am I going to do, be, discover here? was written all over my face. Though it was silly, because I knew myself better than that. Kenyon had knocked me down a whole scale in self-confidence in a matter of days. She empathized, and took my eagerness for pietistic yearning. Perhaps an uneasiness for material life? A wish for heaven? She told me something I had not expected to hear. You should become a catholic. At the time I thought it sounded like a neat idea. It seemed that the more philosophical a Christian is, the closer they move to Catholicism. This was its appeal to me. A perfect way to blend faith and what I am learning at Kenyon! I thought. But I felt... what about enjoyment? Because of the latter voice, the quieter one, since it is my strongest, firmest, most loyal, prevented me from taking any sort of action. I think my soul was also saying, or rather chuckling, what about individualism. And in this spirit I lived at Kenyon. Thinking little of faith, fervently being me... until there was no me left to be. For there is no life apart from God. I made a full circuit all based on a single principle. The American one-- the individual.

 Two years elapsed. I am fully alert,  peddling at high speeds up and down hilly country roads. The sun is still rising; it has not yet reached noonday, and my legs are already dripping with sweat from the aggressive pumping up and down. I dreamed of what my last two years of Kenyon might be like, the first two now closed out and complete. I thought of the numerous exciting discoveries I had made living on my own in Gambier all summer, on my new principles. In moments of such clarity and reflection-- out alone on the road-- I feel as if all the world were on the same page. My page. Thrill, adventure, personal stories, hope, joy seemed to be the cornerstones of everyone's lives. The elements that keep us all going. Out on my bike I always feel that I am exalting us all.

I went home, changed, and set out to Apple Valley. As I drove, my mood began to change. What appeared difficult--meeting with someone I admire-- started to feel easy. Sometimes such a release from gravity is so radically fast and uncalled for that I get goosebumps.  Who, what, was saving me? I leafed through my whole life like I always did on my way to meet people. What was important for them to hear? Dreams of owning land, raising animals, building bookshelves, seemed slightly superfluous to my afternoon company. I clung to these projects, however, as if they were my lifeline connection to God. But I spoke of something else, something other than the contents of my lifeline. Philosophy, theology, history, and the moral values of Kenyon College. I thought it would be delightful to hold such discussions with her because of her faith.

But not all Christians are the kind of Christian that can read the heart. Not all can see past dense words. Many are lofty, many are devout, many imagine what is to come and supplant what is already here. As I made the turn onto Coshocton my stomach leaped a little, not from excitement, but from the knowledge of God, my Master, my authority, and how unbelievably close I feel to Him. I remembered He knows and cherishes everything about me. Especially things like me reading "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" for fun and lessons in optimism. That truly is something that only God can understand. I beamed, thinking these things. The sun, my gentle eye on the wide road ahead, and my imagination, collided into one single feeling-- Purpose.

I was at their house for five hours. The time seemed to be split into sections, sitting in one room and then another, holding the baby, and then taking the baby for a walk. I looked for a sign that I could offer total disclosure. In despondency I reflected that it would not be possible today. I had missions that were outside of books, I had hopes that were nailed to the cross. I had plans that meant sweat and dirt, and days of fear and prayer. I had memories that brought tears and relationships that split at the root. I had damage and salvation that mirrored the level of humanity evident on the artificial section of route 36. But she spoke of the grandeur of cathedrals, the elevation of the saints, the rituals of Adoration and the eloquence of the Pope. God was the same to us, and we both loved Him wholeheartedly. But next to her I felt covered in something I could not find in her house, her words, or her midst. Poverty, simplicity, hourly dependence on my Maker.

She explained to me how the incense, the iconography, the bread, were all supposed to ignite our senses and take us out of the mundane. Yet this seemed to me an absurdity. God is in the mundane! I then told her that to worship all I needed was the night sky. How when I see the moon I think of what it represents. One day there will be no more sun or moon, because God Himself will light the world.  She joked with me that it sounded pagan. I retorted that it was closer to the American Transcendentalists who in the spirit of Jefferson had faith in the common hard-working man.

I left the house at dusk and drove to Danville on back roads. I pulled the seat way back so that I could treat the front seat like an armchair. Silliness. The Life I love. I was in utter bliss. My rituals were numerous, but nowhere were they written down by any church as sacred. "Shall we go to the grocery store for a treat?" I asked, knowing how much grocery store's remind me of God. "Ya know, some meat, some butter, anythin' else?" I laughed heartily out-loud at the sound of my joking voice, so capable of humor after a tense few hours. "Wendy's. I want to go to Wendy's, just because I had told her that living in Gambier has caused me to eat healthily. I must vanquish anything that has a semblance of prideful piety, of distance from humanity." The simple "have a good night" from the lady by the drive through window at Wendy's made me smile more fully than my friend had all night.

When I got home, I ran up the rickety metal stairs of my apartment, careful not to slide through. There was no light anywhere, but the oval moon overhead. "I miss you, I miss you, I miss you!" I screamed out loud, talking to those fundamental lifeline elements that I seemed to have left in the apartment. In rapture I yanked open the old wood door of my apartment, as if in search for them. I stuck the Jetta key on the hook, breathed in the scent of the place, then flew like a dove into the small compartment off the main room that was my bedroom. I closed my bedroom door, and with the greatest reverence for life on Earth I have ever witnessed, landed with a soft thud on my sheets. Everything in sight delighted me. The avocado colored walls that reminded me of dark woods, the old toilet that was grossly stained, the rectangular mirror above the sink that I daily stared into as a brushed my teeth. All of these things have immense meaning! I wasn't disconnected from any of them. I wasn't greater than my appliances. They were wrapped up in me, necessary for my purpose! And I gave them value! A smile spread wide across my face. I wrote in my journal, "I like the way I live. I'll never need stained glass or tall pillars or glorious campuses to love God. And... scripture will always make most sense with my headphones on riding fast on gravel or dirt under the stars on my bike."

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