Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cabinet Files of a 33-Year-Old Female on Raven Street

There is a Hawkeyes v. Cyclones game today.  There’s nobody local I know who hasn’t posted something non-game related on Facebook.  These Saturdays make me feel like a closet freak, me and my closet freak of a family that only notices game happenings because of traffic backups and FB posts from our friends.  I did not wear my black and gold yesterday, like my daughter’s teacher, in preparation for said game.  I did not tailgate. Did not turn on a radio or a television to watch pre-game, during-game, or post-game coverage. The only concern I had was whether I could get across town this morning without getting stuck in a mile-long line of SUVs with Hawkeye flags waving. Other than that, I really don’t care about football.

In my defense, there was nothing in my history to prepare me for a love of football.  As I sorted through the relics of my past (i.e. filing cabinet) yesterday, in preparation of our move, there are clues  that hint at the kind of person I would become. First grade teachers wrote notes; college professors wrote letters of recommendation about me and my creative writing abilities.  Articles I deemed important were tucked away in files for me to find some day, when I really needed them. When I was nineteen, I started saving articles about the work of ministry. I saved essays arguing for a place for women in ministry.  I never wanted to be a pastor, never wanted any sort of leadership role in a church, but the writers or these articles had things to say that were so very important to me that I chewed on them, wrestled with them, brought them up for dinner conversations, and basically hung onto as if these were ideas my upon which my life depended. But I never thought once about, vocationally, being in ministry until I was thirty years old, eleven years later.
There were other telltale signs of the person I was becoming: the standardized test, what a marvelous testament to my utter lack of spatial intelligence, my bumbling mathematical vertigo. Oh, I was great at concepts, the ideas of math.  But ask me to identify a pattern or fit shapes together and my vision grew blurry.  These were standardized test report words that I came to recognize and cherish: Reading. Comprehension. Vocabulary. Usage. Oh, Usage!  How I loved your deftly-turning-of-a-sentence ways.  Spelling.  I was conscientious, my teachers wrote on almost every report card. But I was most conscientious about my spelling list, studying it with exactitude, relishing in my own private pleasure at having remembered to spell a word correctly.  Did other students not study with like eagerness? Did they not relish their spelling successes? If other students made it through high school without having learned basic spelling patterns and rules, I was unaware of this, and indeed, would have been rudely shocked by the news.

What else was in that cabinet? Well, there were crises of health and family that would send aftershocks on into my future. There were notes and handouts from teachers of various creative writing and literature classes.  And what I discovered in my excavation was that my sentimental attachment to these notes and handouts were directly tied to my degree of affection for/respect of whoever taught the class. It was easy for me to toss hundreds of pages of notes I copied down from the teachers who droned on, utterly passionless or--worse--utterly narcissistic.  But the teachers who lit fire under me, whether they were teaching on Ghandi or Moby Dick or Marcel Duchamp, are those whose teachings I can never toss out—because those were the  teachers who helped me come alive, who helped me define the scope of me by the way they listened to and answered my tentative voice.   And beyond any transmission of information,  I am most grateful for their teaching me how to think, inquire, and question—creatively—with courage, respect, and a little bit of moxie.  And thank God, because thinking and questions are what helps us figure out Who We Want to Be and how to navigates the earthquakes and aftershocks in our lives.
At the ripe age of seven, I knew  I wanted to be an author of a book.   At the ripe age of thirty, I knew I was pastoral.  Never once did I want to grow up to be a thinker (and the filing cabinet didn’t suggest it, in so many words), but now (I think:) the idea is golden.

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