I wasn’t paying attention to some big things God was doing in my life 30 years ago, but I had an opportunity to do a little bit of time travel yesterday. Birthday boy Bill and I went to see “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in Bloomington at the Illinois Shakespere Festival. (2-1/2 hours from Chicago, this is far more than Shakespere in a corn field. Great, professional performances across the board in a beautiful setting.) I’d had an opportunity this past winter to return to Bloomington-Normal for the first time in many years. But dang if it wasn’t too cold in February to get out of the car and walk around. While I was there, I remembered the Shakespere festival went on every summer, and mentally bookmarked it as something to check out this summer.
Yesterday, we walked around Normal a little bit and then strolled ISU’s beautiful quad. This quad looks like what a college should look like: a castle, majestic old buildings and classy new ones, added over time like a collection, all surrounding majestic old trees and manicured paths in the middle of the campus. We walked over to Fell Hall and stood in the shade of a giant oak talking for a while. I told Bill I wanted to sit on the steps in the hot summer sun and pray.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but sitting on those steps as a college student 30 years ago introduced me to my imagination. Fell Hall, known back then as International House, was a dorm full of foreign students, art and theater majors, along with a handful of eccentric others like me. It was the only dorm that sat directly on the quad, and those front steps made a perfect spot to play what became my favorite college game: Guess The Major. One friend in particular, a special education major, would sit with me as we watched the passers-by, and not only try to guess people’s majors, but describe their lives, history, and future.
It was a sometimes judgemental, snarky little pasttime. (I’m sorry for that part, Lord.) But it taught me the pleasure of really watching people, to observe, to listen to snatches of conversation, to reach into the ether to capture something beyond what I could see and try to translate it into description. It taught me to sketch a story quickly, with broad brush strokes and neon-colored spray paint, a verbal graffiti artist.
Yesterday, when I went to sit on those steps to pray, I was caught off-guard by the emotion that swept over me. The present-day Michelle got a split-second glimpse of 18 year-old Michelle: it was as if we became one for just a nanosecond. I was that overall-clad little girl who thought she was going to teach deaf kids, and I was a 48 year-old grandmother who has written 3 books.
Have you ever experienced something like this? When you realize that something seemingly small and insignificant has actually launched something very big in your life? I thought at the time that the big thing was to get a teaching degree. I didn’t realize that the joy I had in writing papers, in helping to edit the work of others, the love of art and theater, the non-stop journaling, and Guess The Major were the real direction in my life.
My own kids are in the age range I was then; I work at a college part-time. I want to be able to help them all pay attention to the other things going on in their lives beyond the classroom and job choices. Those other things may actually be the bigger story.