Formation in Place
Elementary. With its outdoor hallways, its orange metal playground. Its original one room building of brick painted white and then brick-red. Its portables in 1st grade and new building in 2nd grade. The smell of crayons and glue and tempera paint and apple juice. The sound of recorders and the old tinny piano. The library and the oak tree in the yard. The teachers, whose faces I remember smiling, and the principal with the thick glasses, the mustache and the limp.
Middle. All brick. Indoors. So many teachers, so many students, so many classes. Body hair and body odor and a body changing so quickly that it has become a stranger to me. Band class, oboe reeds, handbells, jazz band. I miss the sky as I wind the windowless labyrinth.
High. Used to be nothing but cow pastures out there, people said. And I believe them. The pink network of buildings surround the pink belltower, the brick courtyard. Beyond the building, the beginnings of development that will turn into a gigantic mall. Beyond that, a park, and a nature preserve. A small patch of land is all that is left of the pastures. Wide, blue sky. Talk and thought of the future future future.
College. Three spanning the East coast. Formal education. The big leagues. Papers and late nights. Questions the kind of which can’t be answered. And answers the kind of which have no questions. Lifelong friends. Here, we find out who we are. Here, we decide who we will be. We work and we work, because we have been told work is the same as success. Work will produce success. Work will become success. We bend to our professors’ discretion and the demands on our bank accounts. Keep working. It is the best time of your life, they say.
Education is the only balm for my burning curiosity.
Three churches sit like pillars in a town on the border of civilization and the wilderness. One is slate gray with a towering steeple the point as sharp as a needle that pierces the sky. A rose window sits under the steeple, always in a state of repair. The second church is painted all white, white steeple, white pillars and a small white cross that, if you aren't looking for it, you might overlook. The cleanliness, the sterility of the place is striking, deceptively simple. It’s starkness a statement of the sheer riches within its walls. The third church has none of the traditional steeples. It is a campus of Venetian design, cinder block buildings painted tan with a copper tiled roof. Corporate for the corporeal.
They rise above the other buildings, casting oppressive shadows across the lattice of roads, strip malls, and resorts, as if their obstinance, their brazenness, were enough to hold up the crushing sky. A sky made host to the heavens and the hurricanes. Each failing of their own vices. Yet in the face of their own faults, they continue on even as they crack. And something should be said of that.
Made of people, and the invisible nets of human connection that tie me up in knots. Prosperity confused for sincerity, where donation is advertised as a symbol of status. But still the good deed is done, and still help reaches the people who need it. And something should be said of that.
Churches three, that have built in imperfect fashioning, the foundations of my imperfect faith.
The witch's castle has a green metal roof, towering spires defy the presence of the sky. The sky is no limit to them, there is no limit: to power, to money, to influence. The rest of her castle is obtrusive, intrusive to the space around it. Its presence reaches out beyond the bounds of its walls and ceiling and sweeping, manicured grounds. It is a music box. A performance hall. An art museum of those living and dead. It is a pillar of the community. It is a place of work, of recreation, of anxiety, or entertainment. It is a showcase of great creativity and great talent.
Scales, arpeggios, rhythms, chords.
Discipline. Practice. Discipline. Practice.
The hypnotic tic of the metronome, or the toc of echoing footsteps on the marbled floor. Sing in harmony to the sky. Beat your palms on your knees in rhythm.
Once music has cast its spell, it is a lifelong bond.
Summer lives in the mountains. It lives tucked away in the attic, folded inside the tent. It announces itself in thunderstorms, and celebrates with lightning. It sizzles with heat off the sand and sighs in a cool breeze through the trees.
Red clay, a man-made lake, days spent swimming and then drying in the sun. Reading and exploring. Shopping and hiking. The sky drapes itself over the curve of the mountains. Time moves differently. Slow-fast. Time is as long as the sky is vast.
A strange choir of singing crickets and screaming frogs serenade us as we burrow into our sleeping bags. The music of worship rises from the lake to the glittering night sky.
What wonders they have to teach us.