The five-block walk to the subway.
The twelve-week sale of the house.
The hours to surgery.
The years to degrees.
The decades to wisdom.
From outset to threshold
of the threshold,
of the threshold,
imagining the face on arrival,
the place of landing
in fragments and smudged sketches
as a trailing dream.
A zen master would counsel
to be in each second,
to learn from each minute
to acknowledge each step.
I try, lord knows,
I listen hard.
But with each boot plod
or sole flap
or hoof suck
I hear only halts:
“How is that phone even working?” The fourteen-year-old son of our friend in Paris asked, staring across the bistro table at my iPhone with the kind of casual disdain that French teenagers have perfected.
He was right, of course (as all those French teenagers usually are). My iPhone’s battery had overheated and expanded, pushing up against the screen, which had detached around the edges along the top. It being a work phone, I could have turned it in for a replacement, but knowing I would be leaving the university in six weeks, I didn’t want to go through the hassle, despite risking the loss of all service and connection while on vacation in Europe.
We arrived in France for the first time on Bastille Day.
After three weeks in Italy, where I had been in charge of the map and the language, Bob emerged from the overnight train to Nice suddenly totally responsible for our well being.
As he spoke first to the cab driver and then to the hotel clerk, he held is head as if it was painful to produce the sounds he was making. And the locals stared at him as though he were a giant misérable wearing a bloody head bandage.
The handsome Italian flight attendant unfolded the cloth napkin and rested it across my lap, with big smiling Caravaggio eyes that toyed with me for the moment. Bob and I had left Verona at 4 a.m. to race through the foggy Northern Italian countryside in our rental car and arrive at Milano’s Malpensa airport just short of two hours ahead of departure, only to find that Alitalia had overbooked our flight and we might not have seats.
Bob was miserable. He had picked up a cold in Verona, or Modena, or possibly even in my favorite Bologna. So driving through the dark and the fog to arrive at an airport that seemed to be accessible only by a series of farm roads with foreign names like “deviazione” and “non accessibile” had been stressful, to say the least, and multiplied when we learned at the ticket counter that we might not get on the plane at all.
36 years ago today, my mom and dad drove their 18-year-old son across Kansas to drop me off in Denver at the Jesuit novitiate. The three of us sailed across the flat hot Plains in their recreational vehicle (a retirement investment that they never quite got to use in retirement) for arrival day the next morning. The two of them sat quietly in the driver and passenger seats below, while I perched on the bed above them, peering out the long narrow window, watching for the first sign of the Rocky Mountains to appear on the endless horizon ahead. Years later my mom would tell me how worried she and dad had been for me throughout the whole 13 hour trip across Kansas and eastern Colorado, something they kept to themselves at the time, allowing me to be deep in my own feelings.