Readers, a month goes by in a flash when the life you’ve known for four years is almost at an end.
I’ve got a lot planned for you all in the near future – more recipes, updates on the end of college life, anticipation of marriage. In the meanwhile, I’ve been caught in a whirlwind of hidden blessings scattered like tiny seeds throughout my week. When I stumble across them, they burst into bloom.
The most recent that I would like to share involves the selling of my childhood home. You can read up on my original feelings on the matter in my post here. Since that post, I have come to terms with this change in life. However, with the house on the market for over a year now, we’ve all become a little more than detached and worn out with this worldly object that we have to hold on to until someone else wants it. It’s burdensome to live in your home like it’s already owned by another person.
Well, things change. We had our first offer.
The reason this is a hidden blessing is a wonderful story. Four years ago, my parents first began talking about a new life in the country where they could build an earth-sheltered home, have animals, dig a large garden, go off the grid. In a desperate wave to keep home close, I begged them to not sell our house until I was out of college. My sister was able to always “go home” from school, and I should also have that chance. They agreed.
Then, last year, my father lost/left his job and we were faced with a self-imposed ultimatum. We had to sell the house or we would be in serious trouble for numerous reasons. I was ripped in half, but I agreed it had to be done. I agreed, but I wasn’t ready to lose the only house I had ever known.
That was a year ago, and in that time we’ve had lookers but no one willing to settle down. I got engaged and have a set day that I’ll be on my own. And even though it’s not set in stone yet, a first offer on this house is a serious offer and bounds from where we were. Over an entire year and a couple months, we only have an offer just now?
Just as I’m two weeks from graduation?
Just as I’m getting ready to get married and leave home?
God works in wonderfully mysteriously and ironic ways.
If this all goes through, the transition is perfect. My parents are beginning an adventure in a new home as empty-nesters and I’m beginning the adventure of marriage. Just like the transition of my sister getting married was eased by my moving to college, we meet that glorious ideal crossroads again. Only this time, my parents will have fulfilled their promise and all the pieces fall into place. No word was broken, even by necessity. And we’re now all ready to let go.
Call it what you will – coincidence, irony, chance, but God is always faithful, especially in that dark hour just before the creeping calm of morning light.
It’s another hidden blessing, wrapped up in the vines of a tangled time away.
Two weeks until graduation, and I’m doing my best to stay strong.
It feels like the beginning of a very long joke.
Some couples have movie dates. Some couples curl up on the couch to catch their favorite sitcom. My fiancé is no simple creature, and I am no simple girl. We hit the whole town, see the sites, and spend two and a half hours trying to watch an hour-long episode of Downton Abbey.
It begins very simply – a thought.
Let’s watch Downton Abbey over Skype Monday night, he says.
Fantastic! Right after work, TV date it is, I say.
It becomes a little more complicated – Monday is a horrible, disagreeable day.
Are we still watching Downton Abbey? He asks timidly.
*sniffle* Of course. Why wouldn’t we? I reply.
A terrible afternoon later – in my emotional distress, I strike brilliance.
*blubber-sob-sniff* Y-y-you know what we should do? I ask.
Aww, what’s your idea? He inquires tenderly.
*trumpeting nose blowing* W-we should meet in Warsaw and w-watch together at T-Tim Horton’s!
Brilliant. A date it shall be. I’ll bring my headphones.
Fast forward through my ten minutes in Symphonic Winds, a dinner eaten standing up and a very long night calling answering machines and disapproving parents of alumni – I’m on the road to Warsaw.
Early on in the longer-distance portion of our relationship after his graduation, Matt and I became mildly attached to the town of Warsaw, New York. It’s halfway between Houghton and Corfu, home to a McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s, Tops and Wal-Mart, mom-and-pop shops and a few scattered gas stations. It’s the kind of town where the Wal-Mart closes at ten and you can buy everything there except the items you’re really looking for. You itch and squirm watching emaciated cats slink around the dumpsters behind a popular family diner, but you make up for your disgust by watching puppies play through the pet store window around the corner. It’s not a lot to look at, but it has a settled, quiet feeling of familiarity. It’s this place we know.
After a half-hour of driving hunched like Quasimodo, squinting into the dark, singing along to my iPod, and almost making raccoon confetti, I pull into the coffee shop and wait for Matt. He arrives only a few minutes after, dark chocolate and flowers in hand (daisies, my favorite), and proceeds to tell me that our friend Timmy Horton does NOT have Wi-Fi, but his greasy older brother McDonald’s definitely will. Bemoaning my temporary lack of coffee, I accept his gifts with bubbliness and joy, and we hop in Nanny McPhee (his car, another story for another time) and drive a minute down the street.
Entering McDonalds, we immediately discover that fast food joints don’t usually cater to the soulful coffee shop writer or the productive businessman on his lunch break – the only power outlet is right in front of the main counter. Besides this fact, they are closing their dining room in ten minutes. I spent five of those ten minutes with my laptop perched on a half-wall attempting to connect to the free internet. The second five minutes was spent ordering chicken popcorn dippers and starting the download of our episode from iTunes.
Unfortunately, the world is not a wish-granting factory* and the episode will not magically download in five minutes.
Fortunately, the kind employees informed me they would still have the Wi-Fi active and I could pick it up from the parking lot.
Unfortunately, my laptop battery has the energy of a sugar-rushed toddler – it musters massive excitement and productivity for two minutes and then crashes out-cold for hours.
Fortunately, I have an AC adapter in my car so I can run my computer out of the cigarette lighter.
Unfortunately, my car is still at Tim Horton’s with the cops stationed across the street and the creepy guy sitting smoking in his parked Volvo.
Fortunately, as we walk out the door to the parking lot, I spot an outlet conveniently placed on the front of the building, nestled in the landscaping.
Plug ‘er in.
Why drive a whole two minutes in warmth and comfort when you have outdoor power access? Like some sort of dignified crack addict, I snuggle comfortably in the mulch against the plate-glass front window of Mickey D’s and munch on my food while the episode starts its lengthy download – 45 minutes. We came all this way for Downton Abbey. If it means a little mulch on my jeans and cold chicken plus the judgment of total strangers pulling in for a late-night snack, so be it. We need our fix of noble Lord Grantham, the snarky Dowager Countess, dashing (and lame) Matthew Crawley and our utter despising of Thomas the Unbearable… and the whole host of other cast members. But those are the ones we talk back to the most. Or yell at. Or refuse to acknowledge at all.
Ten minutes later: one eighth of the episode is downloaded, the internet is on the fritz, my hands are frozen stiff and all that is left of my chicken is oily cardboard and some honey mustard. The time is 11:30 p.m. Matt has the level-headed idea to pack up and drive over to Tops to check on their internet situation, if there even is one. After leaving me in the car and running inside, he returns from the scout to report the good news that Tim Horton’s employees are big fat liars and they-do-so have internet. They just deny it to keep away the riffraff. We’re not riffraff, we’re just BBC fiends. The second good news is that if TH boots us out, a restaurant in town keeps their wireless on all night and we can get it from two blocks away. Back in the car we go.
We know better than to just skip in the door flaunting our internet usage all over the store. We craftily enter, order drinks and a red velvet brownie and take a seat in a corner. Good, paying customers are worthy to stay and peruse the web while drinking out of the fine beige china. Again, the laptop makes an appearance. And again, disappointment… there really is no internet. Tops workers are horribly misinformed. Downton Abbey is rapidly becoming Downturn Abbey, and Hannah is getting tired.
Rather than just surrender, the determination of young fools in love (with both each other and their Masterpiece soap opera) drives us to the next realistic solution – parking Errol Flynn (my car, the swashbuckling Honda Accord) in the dark restaurant parking lot in town, sketchily sitting in the backseat while the car idles without its lights. For the first time in history, a couple is only using a car’s backseat for innocently watching British television together on a much-needed date after a very long and miserable day.
In actuality, hooking up the computer to my stereo provided us with the best viewing experience to date. Our internet held and we streamed the episode from PBS with only one brief wireless glitch. The sound was good, the episode was intense, the coffee was comforting and delicious and the company was the absolute best. Parting ways an hour or so later, we both agreed it was another successful midnight adventure for the Bear and the Trundlebug.
The punch line? Two best friends just came to see what Warsaw.
Because this episode of Downton Abbey was set in World War 1?
I think we’re done here.
*Thanks for this brilliant phrase go to John Green from The Fault in Our Stars
** Be grateful. Your alternative was a joke about the invasion of Poland.
“Either everything will fall apart, or poetry will make everything alive again. It’s not going to stay like this.”
-Matthew Stein, Words from a Dream
January thaw in Houghton is a bit like a teaser trailer for the next highly anticipated movie – it may be weeks, months, years before the main feature is released, but it’s all you can think about until the moment the first screenings open.
Unfortunately, the season of spring can’t be leaked online, it cannot be interviewed, and there’s never an exact release date, especially in western New York. Spring may come as early as March or as late as June. All the snow may disappear overnight, or there may be a period of uncomfortable indecision where snow boots and a t-shirt may be a compromise.
The thaw is cruel as well as kind in its winter reprieve – it will haunt you until the first daffodil breaks through the crust of slush on the grass and the temperature stays above fifty for more than two consecutive weeks. It also allows you to carry on through winter with some optimism. You will dream of fresh air, the cloudless sky, of sitting in the grass with bare feet while listening to peepers sing to their mates. Spring is a siren; a trap; the very best strain of seasonal disease. She infects and she lingers and she overwhelms you with a sense of security and warmth. She leaves no lasting damage, only seamless transition. You don’t think of winter, you only think of tomorrow and the breaking of a new day, just like this.
The thaw is just a sampling of the real thing, but in the State of Perpetual Winter, you cling to what you can get without complaint.
The afternoon air is registering at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Proper steps must be taken:
- Exchange a sweater for a long-sleeved t-shirt.
- Slide open the storm windows to let in an ozone and grass-laced breeze.
- Slip off ski socks and slide into flip flops.
- Ignore remaining snow drifts and icicles hanging from gutters.
- Listen to the animals waking and scratching, to the birds twittering unseen in the trees.
- Feel the warmth of the noon sun on face.
Close eyes, breathe deep. Exhale, repeat.
I am no fool – I will not miss an opportunity to bask in the gloriously soothing glow of mid-winter sunlight. There may be snow on the ground, but if it smells like spring and you can comfortably walk about with only a light jacket, there’s a sign of hope. There is an end in sight; there is affirmation that winter is neither the conclusion nor the stopping point… that there’s something more than this, something yet to come.
Reminders of this truth are everywhere. One that sticks prominently in my mind is the Disney animation for the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The underlying message is that destruction is a natural part of the flow of life. Despite what may happen or what forces may lash out and seem to tear the world apart, there will be renewal. There will be dawn and life and growth and light.
Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain took me a longer time to figure out, but it’s along the same lines. We have death and decay, and in a sense without it the world could not progress. If you only have growth and expansion, you face overwhelming surplus. Living forever on earth can only be accomplished by being a part of other living things; by feeding the earth in death. There is death, but it leads to new life and afterlife and ultimately a better existence. Death is not a means to an end but a means to a new beginning. Time is a cycle, time offers repetition.
I’m at a time in my life when this idea is showing up more frequently and an in more obscure ways. Celebrating my twenty-first birthday this summer, I found myself facing the death of my childhood, but through it finding the excitement of finally growing into adulthood. I had to say farewell to the benefits and joys of adolescence, but was then able to step forward into a brand new light of legality.
Graduation is the expiry of my formal education, of my time in this place with these aims, but without the end there would never be a new beginning elsewhere, utilizing the knowledge I have garnered here. (You can read more about my feelings on senior year here).
In just over seven months, I will be getting married. There has already been an ending to our “dating” relationship when we felt we had reached the preparedness and commitment to quest on to marriage through engagement. Soon, we shall face the termination of our lives as solitary individuals, but without this surrender we can never be together, bound in matrimony, united until physical death do us part. Some people try to accomplish this without sacrifice, but it’s not the way the cycle is supposed to function. An end brings a new and more wonderful beginning.
The end of a day brings the promise of a rising sun, and the falling snow brings hope hinted at by a welcome thaw. It’s an offering of grace.
Without winter, we would never know spring.
I’m stretched out on a couch on the far end of the campus center, nestled next to the hearth. The scene before be is a daunting one for so early in the morning. About nine hundred high school students are everywhere – lined up the stairs for breakfast, sprawled across couches, chairs and floor, milling near their belongings and the doors. Youth leaders are bedraggled and slack-jawed and have stopped trying to keep their small flock of kids together. Over all, this is a chaotic mess. Still, somehow, it’s a sight that is both sad and refreshing.
Last night, Houghton campus was host to this hoard of high school students, ranging in ages and interests. Coming on buses from Ohio to Canada, the intention of their visit was to tour the campus and pull and all-night, fun filled, annual Spring Fling. While it was an all-night event, not all of them made it all night. Many broke from the passive nonchalant gaze of their caretakers and snuck up to the main lounge to try and steal a few minutes of sleep on open couches. Fluctuating in rumbling intervals throughout the night, students went in and out, up to the gym for games and back to the basement of the campus center for karaoke and snacks. The flow of traffic was sporadic and awkward, and just added to some of the terror instilled by the mass of people. Some students were enthusiastic about this venture, whooping and shouting and squeezing plush skunks that seemingly were handed out by ghosts. Others showed clear signs of disdain for the goings-on and gave off an animosity of children thrown onto a bus by their parents, not expecting to get any gratification from this experience.
I had been in the throng last year – not as a visitor, but as an unwitting freshman with a boyfriend, enjoying an evening relaxing with friends in the campus center. Then suddenly, there were teens. Lots of teens. Everywhere. Wanting to be anywhere but here. That experience, unrelated to the students visiting, was an awful memory for a few personal reasons. It wouldn’t have been memorable, say for the guests which made the events vivid in my mind. I could be frustrated at the bad recollections, but I cannot regret things which happened that night. I have learned and grown from them and have made a fresh start. Therefore, this year, I wanted to experience the thrill of being amidst these kids again. This time, I brought close friends, video games and a double shot of espresso. I won’t let the past haunt me.
Even now, I’m watching eager and exhausted kids run to a couch facing away from the main lounge, hoping it to be empty. It’s currently occupied by my friend Josh who has been comatose for about an hour. It baffles me because, in this huge group, they still believe there would be an open seat when people have resorted to scattering across the floor. Still, I can’t say I blame them for hoping. It’s been a long night. It keeps happening, and every time, it makes me smile a little bit. Each reaction is different – similar in tone, but very different in form.
Josh recently abandoned the couch, and like a carcass just past foul decay, it is swarmed by all angles by weakened forms. There was no pause from the occupation of one body to the three who came after.
For once, I don’t feel alienated even though I am squeezed in a tight corner surrounded by a throng of chattering and sleep-deprived teenagers. I don’t know. To an extent, I am defending my land, my couch and my belongings from the hoard of unknowns. But to another and more important extent, I’m an anonymous and overall ignored overseer of the proceedings before me. I have the perfect vantage point from my small bastion of couches and friends sleeping on their watches. There is no opportunity like this one.
I’ve seen the night slip past with a bitter post-thaw chill, and now the quickly rising traces of blues and emerald greens are highlighting the horizon. This is my absolute favorite place to be on campus when the sun rises. In the late spring, mainly during finals week, I will stay on this couch by the quad windows all night, sleeping for a few hours and then cracking open the window at the first signs of dawn. Cool, clean spring air filters in and cuts the staleness of night. I rise and then get back to work. These are the simple, raw joys of my life, and I love life for them.
I’m missing home a lot right now. It’s easy to drown out the chatter of kids when Ohio is on my mind. My heart literally aches for the blossoming of our apple trees, the lush and heavy blue that saturates the morning air in summer. I long for love, for my room and my own. I’m less than a week away from being there. I just need to put in the full effort that I’ve been lacking to pull it all together. I can achieve great things when I try. God will give me the strength to wrestle past these obstructions. Home is my reward.
Yellow, orange and purple sky… amazing how the colors can change so quickly in only a matter of minutes. It’s the process of morning. We don’t often think of it that was. We go by process so much in other areas of life, and days are divided similarly. Many people never experience the total flow of morning. I’ve seen them all. I’ve stayed awake to watch the ink of night dissolve into a rich azure which drapes over the entire world. Soon after, blue begins to lift as the sun comes to chase it away, leaving a trail of pale orange and streaking into pale cornflower. God is an artist and I have watched him play with his pallet morning after morning as I’ve stayed up far too long past when most people sleep. Sometimes, sleep is simply not an option. There is too much to be seen and thought so early in the morning (or so late). A writer’s life never ceases, especially not when poetic muse gets a spindly hold.
Josh has earned back his bed yet again. Abandoned by the squatters who had taken it, Josh stretched out again to get another few minutes of sleep. He is just as much a squatter as they are, but at least he attends the college.
Backpacks, plastic grocery bags, sweatshirts and hats are all a part of the flow out the door. Just like they came in, screaming and stomping, they are slowly leaving. Cluster by cluster, the large group will diminish along with the incessant roar of noise. Maybe then I’ll get a few more minutes of sleep.
These are opportunities that these kids will lose the chance to experience once they get to where I am. Just as they sever from the group to sleep, they will sever from their peers and become sleepers, unconcerned about their surroundings. Unless you fight it, college has the potential to do that to you. But you must fight, tooth and nail, to stay awake and love all that you do. I only wish I could have told them all that.
I’ll return after a few more minutes of restless sleep.
Houghton is a campus unique in that while we suffer through a long and grueling winter, we are stricken by spring. Marking the season is easy in nature. We see trees start to blossom, animals reappearing from their hiding places and hibernation, and the world thawing with a sense of renewal. At Houghton, we need no such obvious signs. The past few days, we have been warming up to an unexpected seasonal thaw. The air has shifted from the stale dryness of winter to being laced with overtones of spring – moist earth, soft warmth, the kiss of the sun… and with this tiny cue towards season change, campus erupted with life. We reached an uncommon high of 55 degrees today. Back in 1977, a record was broken with 69 degrees.
Only a few degrees away… It’s hard to face the fact that while winter may be over for now, cold walls still keep us prisoners until May. It’s not that I mind at all. I am enjoying my classes and my time with my friends. I am currently at odds with a dear friend and have my sophomore review for art tomorrow. Both of these things are merely trials I need to get past before I can reach my own spring.
And the temperature just dropped by at least 10 degrees. Weather site conflict and one will lie. I can’t really decide what I’m looking forward to most – warm summer nights or clear, blue summer mornings. So many memories are rushed back with the faintest of these rich breezes. Some of friends, some of one… not all are good. In fact, many of them are far from happy. I was such a different person this time last year. I was not a good person this time last year. Those terms are so petty, but it doesn’t mean I was bad. I simply was not good for myself or for others.
Since last night, sitting in the cold, many things have changed. I am awaiting my sophomore review for Art. It’s warm in the seminar room today – a good sign that things are as they should be. I am worried and I am nervous, but I shall be given strength. After all, I am the one who’s paying them. They shall not quell my dreams.
They can quell my dreams. They’re being paid to do just that if I’m not worthy. Lord, give me the courage and the strength to do whatever…
I’ll check in when I’ve awoken from this dream.