Thursday, April 19, 2007


Hail rattles briefly on the windows. Shadows and bronze sunlight hesitate, move on, over the wire-latticed glass. Half a dozen empty tables. At the far side of the room a small, serious young man, sitting up perfectly straight, turns his hand slowly over, his eyes moving between his kinesiology text and his forearm. The room is silent. A couple times a student comes in to check her email, a quick quiet rattle on the keyboards, and goes noiselessly back out.

I doze a little, feeling the pools of light and shadow wander over me, feeling the rain and hail in my sleep. A long slow loneliness sifts down and settles over me. I miss the couple of boisterous students of our classes, who are usually here by now, who stir things up and bring me out of myself. Usually I seek out quiet places and solitude. But today I have been alone all day, and I've had my fill. I'd like some noise and warmth.

No one comes. 6:25. I gather my books and coat and cross the hall to the classroom, expecting to see people sitting on the floor, but no one's there. There's a sign on the door: class has been canceled. Odd. Class yesterday evening -- different teacher -- was also canceled. Is something virulent going around?

I could ask at the office, but instead I go out, walking bareheaded in the rain. Towers of white cloud in a sky that's half bright blue and half dark gray. Squalls catching the sunlight. The world rocks a little, like a ship. I walk down to the convention center and stand under the high glass, waiting for the bus. On a building several blocks away an American flag floats over an Oregonian flag, both at half-mast. I search my memory, but can't think of who's died recently, except for Kurt Vonnegut. I don't suppose it's for him. Maybe it's the Virginia Tech shootings. Or maybe it's been an especially bloody day in Iraq. I don't follow these things: it's no news to me that people are deliberately slaughtering each other. They've been doing it all my life, and I confidently expect them to be doing it long after my death. They think it will change something. They have no idea, no idea how hard it is to change things. They think it's other people who need to be straightened out, or got rid of. If only it were that easy.

It's the twist in the heart that needs to be straightened out. I know that darkness, that hunger, that endless gnawing emptiness. "He was a loner" announce the headlines, gravely. Well, yeah. Me too.

Another shock of hail. A brilliantly white airplane crosses against a black cloud. Sunlight glitters on the green glass of the convention center.

Earlier today an ancient homeless man, with iron-gray hair curling around his ears, wandered up to me on the sidewalk. "Another fifty cents and I can get a sixpack," he muttered. Looking closer at his face, the color and texture of grimy red vinyl diner upholstery, I realized that he was probably exactly my age. I dug change up out of my pocket, a couple bucks' worth, and handed it to him. There was a lightening in his body, as if something heavy had been taken off his shoulders. He straightened up and looked me in the eye for the first time, and said distinctly, "God bless you."

Yeah. I hope he will. I hope he'll bless all of us.

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