A candle in the window

My blog was pretty quiet in the year just past. I count twelve posts.

Something is wrong.

Many things are wrong, in fact, but just yesterday a former student taught me an important lesson about the thing that is fundamentally wrong, at least as far as my blog is concerned.

I’ve been pretty active on Facebook, craving the contact, the immediate rewards, the comforting network there that seems so much more tangible, knowable, known. It’s a gated community and that’s certainly the main point of what now appears to me to be my retreat there. I expect I will continue to crave that network of friends and family and colleagues, perhaps now more than ever before. No terrible thing, that craving: the gates are also a circle of trust, which is how I got my lesson yesterday. And yet the circle immediately expanded into a much larger realm, one in which a larger circle of trust, one I had drawn myself but forgotten or neglected (they amount to the same thing), lay waiting for me.

My former student’s husband was driving on the highway when two deer hit his car. The car was a total wreck. He was fine. The torrent of gratitude one feels at such a moment came pouring out of his wife in a status update on Facebook. In that update, she remembered something she had learned from another Mary Washington professor, an Ethiopian scholar who emigrated to the US and taught at Mary Washington for many years. I worked with him for over a decade. His name was Taddesse Adera.

What did the young woman recall? What learning outcome appeared as a moment of terror yielded to a torrent of gratitude?

She remembered that Taddesse had taught her that in his culture, people were never counted, for anything that can be counted can be taken away. In that remembering, she resolved she would not count her blessings in this intense moment, but rather think about the depth and expansiveness of her blessings as they spilled over any possibility of measure or containment. And in that resolve, she remembered her teacher. Memory became memorial.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. How marvelous in this moment of readiness for this grateful woman to have a dear, wise teacher appear before her once again. And in the responses she received, other Mary Washington students shared in her gratitude, for her husband’s safety as well as for Taddesse Adera’s lessons–for they too had been students in his classes.

As the comments continued, the young woman wrote again, and the circle expanded. She had felt the presence of her teacher Taddesse so intensely in that moment that she went to Google to find the marks of his works and days. In doing so, she found a memorial I had written on my blog just after Taddesse had died, suddenly, in early 2006. The post spoke to her, and she shared it with her Facebook network.

And now I saw the post again, many years later, and I remembered something.

Sometimes my blog advances an argument, or tries to. Sometimes it aims to explore (or affect) the metaphysics. Sometimes it’s just thoughts, more or less unshaped, Sometimes all it is, is writing. Me writing. Gardner writes.

Reading what I had written about Taddesse, though, reminded me of what my blog is, at the deep heart’s core. These moments of love, or pain, or wonder, or confusion, these are important moments. Not every moment, and not all equal, but more of them than we can well remark upon, and more that should be discoverable, and unpredictably so. More moments we can reach for, and bring close.

One of my favorite scenes in The Year Of Living Dangerously comes when Billy Kwan, looking at the pictures of the new reporter in town, asks the empty room the essential question: could this new arrival be the unmet friend?

The wider circle of trust is the faith that the world has more unmet friends, more hands to hold, more hearts to mark and remember. I started blogging because I believed in the possibility of that wider circle, and marveled at the ways in which the Internet and the World Wide Web had symbolized that possibility and demonstrated the yearning that had animated many of its builders.

The young woman’s love for her old teacher, my love for a departed colleague, a link that leads to a memorial that still lives. A departed colleague and years of my own life now long past. A loss of faith interrupted by a young wife and mother’s joy, and a hyperlink to a past self who rebuffs my deflated disbelieving present self. A past self, now present, remembering a fine student and sharing in her joy, remembering a colleague who helped to nurture and shape my growth as a scholar and teacher, and whose life once again illuminated mine. A live link to help me recall why I blog.

A candle in the window.

"there's a place I got when I'm all alone." Photo by Psyche Della. CC-by-nc.

“there’s a place I go when I’m all alone.” Photo by Psyche Della. CC-by-nc.

16 thoughts on “A candle in the window

  1. I really like the the thought of friends unmet. Really makes me think of what I will do with the time I have left, especially since I am way past the half way mark.

  2. “Art can be anything you want it to be as long as you allow it to be whatever it wants to be.”

    From my blog, retrocast.net/rhududu, circa 2010.

  3. Pingback: I saw your light - lauraritchie.com

  4. Thank you, Gardner, for reminding me as well. I wait too long to post to my blog, as though I raise the stakes each time and have to be more profound, more clever, and if I’m not, I don’t write. But I should write. Cathy writes.

  5. Beautifully spoken. Thanks for putting into words what I have been struggling with in my own blog and my own absence of writing. I too shall return to capture those moments and leave my own legacy in the form of a candle in the window. Thank you.

  6. Interesting that I found this after I returned to blogging (personal blogging, not work blogging) myself just this morning after a year and a half of not blogging on this particular blog… Like you – moments have been shared instantly instead of written about and celebrated with words. A candle, indeed.

  7. Pingback: It’s 2016 | FNCLL

  8. Like the metaphorical glass, the blog is always partly full. In its own inexplicable serendipitous way, the music in the blog spheres resonate when least expected.

    Ecstatic to see the flicker in the feed reader.

  9. Thanks Gardner for remembering Taddesse and for remembering those wonderful days when we were all colleagues on a common journey of discovering what teaching could be. Taddesse knew then better than most of us know even now a decade later.

  10. This I find deeply troubling:
    “…a hyperlink to a past self who rebuffs my deflated disbelieving present self”.

    Giving care in all things is growing into a primary goal for me in all that I do. I care that you feel this way – deflated, disbelieving. I am sad to read that. I do hope that speaking through your blog voice and finding who is here – caring and ready to listen – will restore a small measure of faith…enough to be uplifting to you.
    So that you will speak again. Soon.
    We are here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *