Tuesday, May 11, 2010

on beginning a semester asking 18-year-olds to write about love

A rant scribbled in my notebook in Starbucks, last September at the beginning of my first semester of teaching. 

If love is so great, and love is what everyone wants, then why doesn’t everyone run out and give as much love as they can? If God has provided everything we need in this big gorgeous creation, and endowed us with God’s likeness and spirit, why do we fail to love? How could we? What prevents us from love?

A drop of oatmeal falls cunningly between the wires of the spiral notebook of my journal, and I can’t easily reach it without destroying my journal—my only journal handy here at Starbucks. Already I’ve drawn quizzical arrows, corrected spelling and in short I’ve broken the spell of that intense question from the class I’m teaching. In all likelihood I’ve broken the spell because I can’t bear another round of another day of confession of my sins of omission. How do I not love thee? Let me count the ways.

The oatmeal gives me something to do. I think of the box of tea to buy, here at Starbucks. I think of the beautiful faces I dropped off at the school door. I think of school’s opening assembly. I don’t know my own work schedule yet—I hardly know anything.

How do I reconcile love and parenting—brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth, are those shoes too small? Really? That seems impossible—they are still so beautiful, so perfect for you. Except they are not perfect, now. Did I take time to kiss the girl-foot, before it grows into a woman-foot? Not today. Brush your hair. Pack your lunch. Don’t tease me for making a wrong turn, I need coffee… Three hours later the coffee has grown cool, and the brew I’ve chosen is bitter and dark against my favorite oatmeal second breakfast.

I love Starbucks. I love oatmeal. I love the classical music playing this morning. In order to love these students I need to go to Staples for a giant sticky pad, on which to write Shakespeare, Donne, Browning, I Corinthians 13.

An informal baby shower emerges in the small circle of cushy chairs: three couples, two infants. Packages of baby gear are sorted one-by-one. The group talks excitedly in a mix of English and some Asian dialect—I hesitate to guess. Rattles are demonstrated. Baby bottles.

How mercilessly easy it is to love infants—simply put aside all else, and pretend you exist only to make the child healthy, whole, settled. Only live for that smile. I cross the “l” accidentally and spell “smite,” good heavens. How they smite us with love, these small and delicate creatures! How motherhood smites the self for a few years, until there is nothing left but the stump of Jesse. How blessed are those of us God gifts to grow again, smitten, decimated, and ready for what’s next.

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