Love Amid Contingency

The question was not death; living things die. It was love. Not that we died, but that we cared wildly, then deeply, for one person out of billions. We bound ourselves to the fickle, changing, and dying as if they were rock.

-from Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees

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That Elusive Mean

Any chance of getting myself somewhere in the cheery middle between the extremes that are being full of one’s self and being entirely unhappy with one’s self? (Strangely and fittingly enough, the two extremes are often one for me…)

As my piano teacher used to say before solo/ensemble days: “Abby, just remember, someone will play better than you, and someone will play worse than you.” Helpful perspective. But that doesn’t cut it at the end of the day.

I’ve wondered about this before. I don’t think I was wrong then.

Neither do I think I was particularly helpful, then.

So I’m still wondering about it.

And I’ll leave my wonderings with a photo that (I think) sums up nicely the sort of mean I have in mind. Taken by my junior dean in Bath. I look happy. Not especially beautiful. But content to be as I am, taking photos of the Roman baths and my classmates and listening to my audio guide in between times.

So that mean: contentment, happiness, cheerfulness. No self-despising and no self-aggrandizing. Visual below.





Entering Grades

After I sort the blue books

collate the scantrons

do the multiplication, the addition, the recording

when I finally reach the entering I feel as though

the work at hand is incantational.

This cruel alchemy

turns agency and anxiety

into a bell curve of tally-marks

scrawled letters,

and screen-dotting numbers.

If there is a turning-to-gold

it is found in the repetition of their names


And I wish each well

as I archive, sometimes with cringing disappointment,

their grades.

The Opening up of New Worlds. No, really.

That is the most cliche title you will ever hopefully read on this blog. But the expression about “new worlds opening up” really is what I want to mention, today.

One of the most striking aspects of my three years thus-far in school is that I’m forever having these ephiphianic moments, in which I notice for the first time a whole terrain or landscape of thought/life/whatever that I’d never seen before. Never thought of before.

Mostly this has happened in two general contexts.

One, Christianity. It is my delight to continually realize how “big” Christianity is. How many ways there are to be a Christian. How many variations of the Christian tradition there are. Sure, sometimes this diversity is divisive, etc. But here I merely want to say: I’ve been glad to realize that Christianity is in fact bigger than the christianity of my childhood.

Two, life in general. (That’s a nice specific category for you!) I guess I’m mostly referring to the grown-up world. I keep being surprised to realize how much there is to feel. Surprised by how fierce love is. Surprised by the incredible amount of “stuff going on.” Surprised to realize the fine shading present in scenes of profession and event, where previously I’d been seeing only a high-contrast black and white print.

This morning, for instance, I’m thinking about teaching. I’ve been playing teacher for the last few days.

And I’m suddenly and newly aware of all sorts of things about teaching that had never occurred to me before.

The vulnerability of teachers to students. They could just walk out, you know.

Or, the crisis of meaning that comes with lecturing to people who could care less, people who are texting as you deliver your carefully prepared thoughts.

The difficulty of saying something to them that will be meaningful, something that they’ll see as interesting and pertinent to their lives. And then the problem of reconciling this with the blah-material about your discipline that you’re supposed to drum into their heads.

The tension between grace and tough-grace. So she’s sleeping. And he he’s failed the last three quizzes. Do you forgo correction and emphasize concern for their welfare? – something must be wrong! Or do you take patterns of disappointing behavior for just that: patterns that might benefit from a corrective (and I think correction can be grace-full) word or two?

Eh. I have homework to do.

Let’s just end with: It was hard.

And I’m newly opened to what’s going on when my professors stand in front of me and teach.

Newly sympathetic.