For Future Years

My department head showed up at Mass yesterday, and you would never guess she'd just had surgery on Friday from her bright and smiling face.  She wanted to see the students and collect their papers so she could grade them.  Ahhh, the conscience of a teacher!  Another of my colleagues was in a terrible car accident last year, and as she described it later, before she climbed from the wreckage of her car, she made sure she had her record book tucked under her arm -- you know, in case the car blew up.  Loss of life and limb is nothing compared with the loss of grades!

Anyway, we had a chance to chat about her classes, which was a relief; I was worried I would disappoint her by not teaching the lessons exactly as she would have done.  But she was very understanding, very relaxed.  "Cover the Romantics," she said.  "Tintern Abbey to start, and then Byron, Shelley and Keats."  All of them?  "Just a sampling of each one.  Pick some good excerpts."

I was intimidated by her confidence in me.  But later that afternoon, listening to students read the immortal lines of Wordsworth, I realized how much I love to teach poetry.  It's like teaching a class about butterflies, or lecturing about how to enjoy a bottle of wine.  Work?  A job?  I don't think so.

Last night I reconnected with a dear friend; amid Thai curry and shared stories from the years we had to catch up on, we talked about what a blessing it was to have the church.  Not a community of like-minded people who surround and support you, although that is also a great blessing; just the church, the sacred space of worship in which you can lose yourself.  The world around you fades away; you fade away; there is only eternity, and Truth.  And somehow, whatever problems you've brought with you, they are not important as long as you can stay there -- so you prolong the moment as long as you can.

A little like the poet of yesterday afternoon, who looks over Tintern Abbey with the cares of his world on his back: nations in turmoil, political revolt, and the even-greater threat of burgeoning industry that would strip his people of their very humanity.*  And yet he took strength from his solace in the woods, understanding the bittersweet truth that his time there could not last:

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.

*I know all this because I faked my way through my friend's lecture notes on the age of Romanticism.  It sounds impressive, though, doesn't it?