Tonight finds me in Wheaton* for the first time in two years, and for the second time since I graduated. The last time I was here was for a wedding; this time, I’m here for a funeral. Both can (and should!) be ways of celebrating life. And both are bittersweet.
But it is also the living who draw me here again. And tonight, the sky is alive with the first snow of the season. There’s always something special about the first snow. The ground and air feel hallowed, and my friends and I are excited as kids. Wonder at the new snow sweeps over us again. The ground is transformed into a bed of white. We are transformed-for just a moment-back into children. We’ve temporarily turned off the lights so as to see the snow better through the many, large windows.
Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted [or change, or turn] and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. -Jesus, Matthew 18:3
The snow also makes me think of all the things sleeping (or about to be sleeping) in the earth, soon to be covered the whole winter long, which makes me think in turn of this:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. – John 12:24
Dostoevsky used this verse as the inscription for his most famous and most highly regarded work – that supreme novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Of the many things for which I am deeply grateful to Dr. Lundin, one of the foremost among them is the unmatchable introduction he gave me to this incredible book. I am confident that pieces, at least, of TBK are in my very soul for life.
Tonight, I am in Wheaton again, with beloved friends who I have gone too long without seeing. Jazz music, motown tunes, oldies are playing. Snow is covering and beautifying the world outside. I am typing, but about to shut my laptop and go join my friends in the living room. I’ll probably snuggle up with a blanket and book, and perhaps later we’ll make more chai tea. I know there’ll be laughter.
Also, I’ve had occasion to recall this poem more than once over the last few days – Temptation, by Czeslaw Milosz:
Under a starry sky I was taking a walk,
On a ridge overlooking neon cities,
With my companion, the spirit of desolation,
Who was running around and sermonizing,
Saying that I was not necessary, for if not I, then someone else
Would be walking here, trying to understand his age.
Had I died long ago nothing would have changed.
The same stars, cities, and countries
Would have been seen with other eyes.
The world and its labors would go on as they do.
For Christ’s sake, get away from me.
You’ve tormented me enough, I said.
It’s not up to me to judge the calling of men.
And my merits, if any, I wouldn’t know anyway.
The timing for remembering this poem is apt for several reasons, not the least of which is that I memorized, recited, and read a written reflection of mine on it for my senior seminar in literature during my last year here at Wheaton. I remember sharing it, too, with one of my roommates on the prairie path that semester, already three falls ago now. I took a walk on part of the prairie path again tonight. I’ve also got so many thoughts, impressions, feelings, reflections, questions (always), muddled things flooding my mind tonight — but I think I’ll keep most of them to myself for now. Not enough space to sort them out at present, so they’re best left unpublished. (But simply acknowledging their presence helps a bit.)
Tomorrow, there will probably be tears. Tonight, there will certainly be laughter. There already is.
*or rather in Glen Ellyn, the next town over, to be technically exact – Close enough. And I did walk to Wheaton and look around a bit this evening, and was in Wheaton as the snow first started falling. But my friends’ apt. is in Glen Ellyn.