then lifting my heart

An Essay By Ben // 1/24/2004

I’m thankful for things. I am thankful for the fencing foil with the French grip that I use in fencing class, the antique red and gold velvet and the trace of rust running along the blade. For the sound it makes when it whistles through the air or strikes another blade. I’m thankful for the green and gold picture frame on my wall, with the postcard of the medieval painting of Dante held within. For the tweed jacket I wear when I go out to smoke a pipe, and the pipe with its dark bowl and cherry glow of fire. For the smoke that dances out and spreads into the air like a spiritual thing.

I’m thankful for music. For the intricate design that circles ever inward on the tapestry covering one of my four walls. For the lights in windows and the tips of trees. For quick eyes and smiles, slow laughs and turtle necks, flowing hair and snow falling. I am thankful for old books with torn pages.

and the words that walked among the muscles of my shoulder
with the massive instep of patient weight pressed up against me
light as air: these left me on the threshold.

Interior spaces and hours: these are many, too. I picture a hospital bed white, and words leave me. Pain of age and future; fear of past and present; loneliness all alone. The breath that leaves you and drops to the ground in the cold night: a dumb groaning…. Alas, there are many interior spaces and hours.

pity descended on me in the first frost, in the first moon and measure of time,
curling the edges inward of an intricate pattern so lovingly made
as a bedspread spread, an invitation to sleep.

Last night I went to the bar to celebrate Mary’s 21st birthday. Most of my senior class was there in the smoky haze, dark wood, and TV screens. Once, I would have hated this place. But now I’ve learned a way to penetrate through it sitting in a chair talking to friends. For they are my friends, even though I’m not worthy of them. There are people there – real, sometimes good, always thinking people. Where would we be alone? That’s the way I get past the place. Mary is engaged to a graduate of our college who recently became a Catholic. She and I have been getting up to go to seven o’clock morning Mass at St. Christopher’s parish every other day. We both hate to get up, and when she calls me on my cell phone to see if I’m ready to go out to the car our conversations barely make sense. We drive down a windy road in the dark and sit in the church pews surrounded by elderly people while the sun slowly lights the stain-glass windows around. I am always sleepy, a little disheartened, distracted, but glad to be there. Who can help it when the priest speaks, “lift up your hearts,” and the host descends? When we come out of the church into the early light and crisp wind a sort of laughter just comes up in your throat. “Here we are,” you want to say, “at the start of a new day.” And words come to your lips more easily. What a strange mixture of goodness and sin we humans are! Where would we be without the cross?

then lifting my heart swift I caught the lost time and let it cry awhile
in my chest, maybe kneeling in the half-light, maybe breaking the
glassy solitude, but most of all anticipating its words.

Tomorrow I’ll drive home to be with my family and to watch football. There are so many things hanging over my head here, it will be good to get away. In fact, the main thing hanging over me is literally hanging over me right now on a shelf a few feet above my head: books. So much to read. A thesis. A paper due Monday. A huge test. And the semester begins all over again. I’ll run through the same circles of fire, pull myself from the bed the same number of times to pour over a book, drink the same coffee even though I know I shouldn’t touch the stuff. Yes. I am a senior. Next year I’ll be working in the admissions office full time as one of the staff – what an honor! I’m glad to be staying one more year for a lot of reasons, not least among them the chance to take more classes here. This is truly a visionary school. I am thankful for it.


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