December 03, 2009

Pay Attention

I leave the hall later than my usual habit. It is quiet, except for the relentless hum of the city. It's the sound of cars and trains, not close, but not far away, and the continuous breath of living buildings. Then above it all rises the cry of geese. I turn just in time to see the massive V flash above the red-brick bulk of Architecture Hall, lit like commets from the city below, glowing gold against the starless night. Then they're gone and only the full silver moon is above, directly overhead.

I watched it rise six short hours before, just after twilight fell, over the white monolith of the Sheldon Art Museum. I paused for a moment on the grand steps of the hall to admire the sight, before hustling out for food and then swiftly back to my work.

On the way home, the wind is with me, blowing down from the north at my back, pushing me along like a strange two-wheeled sailboat, my sail a crow-black coat and my pennant a polar-white cap, rabit fur down snug against my cheeks. The clock at 11th and O Street read 12:27 AM, 25 degrees Farenheight. A trio crosses the street where I stop at the light, two white girls and a black man, two pushing bikes alongside the one who walked, all bundled tight against the chill. They are laughing.

My teeth hurt from the cold and my glasses fog with every breath, but I don't mind it. I realize for all my wining, I wouldn't rather be anywhere else. The fact that I'm here is enough evidence of that. It's Hell Week, the week before Dead Week, two until Finals Week. Hours are long and tempers are short, yet everyone is oddly cheerful. It's that time of semester where we all get a little punchy, but no one takes offense because we haven't the time or energy to bother. Besides, we've all been there. We all know. We snap and smile and quip, all forgiven in the blink of an eye.

If not for the late night, I'd not have had the geese or the moon or the laughing trio. If not for being overstressed and underfed, we'd not have the camraderie. There'd be no war stories to tell, no scars to show where we got our first (or fifth) set of stitches from yet another 2:00 AM exacto knife accident. We'd not know, and the next time someone got a little punchy with us, we might just punch back.

That's how compassion works. And gratitude. And beauty. It finds us when we lease expect it. Not when we're sitting on a cushion or chanting a mantra, saying our daily affirmations or reading the sutras, but when we most need it.

All we have to do is pay attention.

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