I have been fortunate this semester to be assigned to evening shifts in the communication lab. By the end of the three hours of uninterrupted study my shift provides, I have accomplished enough to put worry aside and enjoy my walk back across campus to my dorm.
There is something peaceful and perfect about the night; the way the lights of the city throw out gentle pools of light that – bouncing off the ground, the trees, the walls – creating playful shadows across my path. The warm air blows soothing and soft, thawing limbs frozen from hours in the near-arctic lab and wafting away the trials, tribulations, and stresses of the day.
Students flow in and out of the library as I pass. Their packs curve their backs forward – many to a severe degree; their faces are grave. Others hurry by to the Rec, to a meeting, to a friend – some laugh, some smile – but their faces are far from carefree – unattended duties no doubt weighing on their mind. What are their problems? A test, a missing book, an argument with a friend, CSO responsibilities, deadlines, an extra expense that might make this month a little tight?
What are their worries compared to Paul’s? He stands day after day, just outside this wrought iron arch, in the rain, sun, snow, sleet, and blistering heat asking what each oh-so-busy student knows about homelessness and if maybe, just maybe, they could help? They pass quickly by, faces averted, resolute. Sorry. I have to get to class. He’s always there. I’m sorry. I’m busy. Later. I don’t have as much as I’d like to ether. I’ll volunteer. Each time someone around me mutters to a friend: “Why is he here? Doesn’t he know we’re all broke college students?”
I suppose that assuages the guilt the next time they buy an overpriced latte.
It is late tonight when I pass his usual place and he is gone. I wonder where he is. Has he found cover for the night – perhaps even a bed? Or is he among the hundreds of others who are told each night: “I’m sorry, all the shelters are full. We are out of beds tonight.” Has he found food and drink; or is his stomach rumbling with hunger? What are our problems compared to his? Nothing.
The cars racing down Grand to unknown destinations rush past my solitary figure. What story do these cars hold? What magnificent journeys have they traveled? What ills do they hide; shielded by layers of plastic, steel, and paint? Do they hide the falling graduation rates, the rising apathy, a parent taken to drink? It all seems so far away in this campus bubble. The world here is peaceful, pleasant – almost magical. Soft shadows light my way as passing cars play out their bizarre but soothing melody. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. My city lullaby.
Cheers and bugle calls rise up from Herman Stadium, the indeterminate voice of the announcer drowned out by the crowd. The team must have scored a goal. Funny how much a game can matter. The players on the field are focused, gaining strength from the crowd, living and dying with each point. In a few years, what will this game mean? What will it matter? There is no lasting meaning, no permanent degree, nothing but the glorious memory of that moment eventually lost to time, like so many other fleeting moments.
Perhaps the idea is the memories. The moments. Enjoying them as they happen and looking back on them fondly; using them to bring joy into any moment. The goals, the night walks, the smiles, the laughs – they live not only in that moment, bring happiness not only in that moment – but also in every moment after when they are recollected.
The oncoming headlights scatter the shadows momentarily, only to let them creep back like a never-ending game of tag. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. The gentle breeze barely rustles the trees, giving an extra level to my city lullaby. My face is upturned, enjoying the warm, gentle, breeze, the playful shadows’ tag game continues around me. I am removed, free. This is one of those moments to remember.