Many years ago, I taught in a pretty little red brick school across the street from the National Cathedral in D.C. I walked to and from school every day, right past that towering Gothic wonder, its gargoyles keeping wary eyes on me from their unfinished perches, sometimes its carillon belling from the clouds. Often I would stop in after school. Sometimes I was the only one there, or so it seemed. Always with a sense of unreality, I stood in that vast space, feeling both diminished and uplifted. Isn’t that the purpose of Gothic? Doesn’t it force our eyes up, and don’t our spirits follow? There was nothing there that wasn’t beautiful to me, in both the enclosed silence and the embrace of balance.
It seemed to shelter me and yet leave me open to some mysterious elements. I never quite believed I was there. I remember.
In that time, I learned what it meant to stand alone in that graceful vastness, I learned what it meant to fall in love with a classroom of sixth-graders, I turned 23.
I just returned to that cathedral to watch John McCain’s funeral, overflowing with the here and now. But part of me was back in the there and then. Through all those seated dignitaries, I could see that girl-woman who was me, her arms full of books and papers, moving in her snail’s pace, trying to absorb her fleeting present. She was very aware of transience.
I think she turned and looked at me, in her future, and I’m wondering what she saw.
September 1, 2018 at 10:56 pm
What an interesting day you have had. Yes, our younger selves could never have imagined the journey of life we would experience. The ups, downs, good and bad times, the delirious joy, and the terrible grief. I am sure you had a smile as they panned around the church but also some other feelings as well. I wonder how many students still remember your name and appreciated your encouragement because of those quiet moments you had there to collect yourself. 🙂
September 2, 2018 at 12:02 am
You are right that teachers are lucky if they have those quiet moments. I doubt those students would remember me — I was a fill-in for a sick teacher and had only a semester with them, so I was just a little dot in their long school histories, but I sure remember them! They were all about “The Monkees,” “Get Smart,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” They taught me a lot.
You are also right that our young selves wouldn’t believe it if they could look ahead at their futures. It’s just as well they didn’t know!