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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comfortable

Outside, a chilly wind is whisking through the pine tree and gusting across mounds of snow; inside, we're knitting hats in stripes of purple, binding the edge of a quilt, blogging, reading, listening to soft music and the murmur of happy, contented voices. The beautiful thing about family is that we can pick up exactly where we left off the last time we saw each other. We're comfortable together. We can indulge in doing nothing, speak through silence, and know, all the while, that we are secure in our mutual affection and trust.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The pooling of ignorance

Question-and-answer is a vanishing art. We are so drowned and smothered and deafened by panels, dialogues, rap sessions, discussions, talk shows, and other such exercises in the pooling of ignorance that, far from developing the art of asking questions and giving answers, we have very nearly lost it altogether.
"Thinking," Elisabeth Elliot

Happiness and waiting

The last time I was at PDX, I walked down the carpeted halls and I was tired, worried, and somehow thrilled (to be home and in my own country again). On this trip, five months later, I was still tired, a little sore (I've been fighting off an infection of some sort), worried (when am I not?), but somehow happy.

There's something about PDX that feels familiar now. The strangeness and exoticism that I've always associated with airports have given way to the more mundane scents of popcorn and sandwiches, to the sound of sneezing, and the hubbub of varied voices. But if the glimpse of the exotic that I found here before has disappeared, the feeling of being in limbo, on the edge of the world, still prevails once I make my way through security and to the appropriate gate.

We sit here--all of us--with our bags and jackets, watching the planes coast in and out on glistening pavement, waiting for our flight number to be called. How many of us are also waiting on our lives? Promises made but still unkept, dreams on hold, hopes deferred. I thought yesterday that there was something terribly passive about all this waiting, something horribly unhappy. But I think today that a happiness that falters in the face of waiting has very little to offer; and I also think that waiting doesn't have to be as passive as I at first thought.

In my own life, I know that the waiting will be punctuated with good and necessary activity: I have five terms of my undergrad left, graduate applications and exams to think about and complete, an honors thesis to write, plans to make, people to love, friendships to foster. And even though sometimes I wonder why we're all sitting here, waiting (for ice to be cleared or dreams to come true), I also know that what I most desire and what I choose for myself is something that I don't have to wait for. Happiness is something I already have.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breathing

I am engaging (once again) in the age-old art of procrastination. It may be Christmas break, but there's a new paper calling my name and a presentation waiting to be hammered out of an old document and even some reading that will be necessary before beginning the next paper. But, after all, it's Christmas break. And with only three weeks to spare before the onslaught of next term's classes, I am in need of a breadth of space and time to call my own: I need to read books that are not required, to take walks that are not designed to punctuate long hours of thinking and writing, to sit and watch the Christmas tree lights glowing in the corner of our family room. I need, in short, to breathe.

Quietly, slowly, deeply.

And I can only hope that somewhere in the midst of those long-drawn breaths, I'll find the mental strength to return to my (required) books, and papers, and presentations and create of them something worthwhile.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Catching laughter

I mark time by the turning of terms--by the crescendo of busy, class-filled weeks, by the moments of despair and bliss (occasioned by impending deadlines or well-written papers), and by the sudden, empty feeling after the last paper is turned in, the last final taken, and the last book emptied out of my backpack and onto the bedroom floor. You'd think that after eight of these terms, they'd start feeling the same. But somehow they never do; something is always new or changed; something is almost always better.

During my first term at Western, I found my feet and got my bearings; in the second, I became a philosophy major; during my third, I presented a paper at a conference. My fourth term was a summer term. I took math in a building without air conditioner and history from a professor who remains one of my favorites here. The fifth term I took Bible as Literature ("Sometimes," I told my professor, "I feel as if the world is falling out from under my feet." "Or maybe," she replied, "It's rising up to meet you."); in term six, I got ready to go to Germany and learned how to grieve. Term seven I spent abroad (and I don't think I've ever completely come back). And this last term? My eighth?

I spent it catching laughter on the third floor of the library.

I had expected to slip easily back into my old study routine this fall: long, solitary hours in the library, evenings of studying at home. But that routine was serendipitously interrupted. I met people, made friends, found kindred spirits. And suddenly I wasn't studying alone anymore. There were three of us haunting the same nooks on the third floor; three of us making dinner plans; three of us worrying about papers, and exams, and grades; three of us laughing.

And it was very, very good.

So yesterday I turned in my last paper, took my last final and said goodbye to my eighth term at Western. I'm more than halfway done. A year and a half and it will be time to move on, time for this stage to give way to another.

"But you know what they say," one of my friends told me late one evening while we were studying, "You know they say that the friends you make in college are the ones that last the rest of your life. And you know? You're the first person I've met here that I've felt that way about."