A Bigger Pasture

Do you remember your transition from grade school to high school?  His very first day of school, when his mom left him in a classroom with some thirty other six-year olds he’d never seen before, was his first introduction to the world beyond the walls of home.

Home was claustrophobic.  His dad, the baby of his family, was born in that house in 1923.  Dad’s parents lived in the back half of the house, while mom and dad and (eventually) ten kids lived in the front.  He was fourteen years old, average height, overweight.  Smart as a whip, shy as a mouse.  He had a small circle of friends, and a sincere desire to become a Catholic priest – at least, he thought he did.  He was looking forward to a new start in a high school some 400 miles away.

The high school seminary did not have individual rooms.  About eighty-five students all slept on the same floor, freshmen and sophomores on the west end of the third floor, junior and seniors on the east end.  Each seminarian had their own twin size bed.  The metal bed frame included a couple of large metal drawers tucked away under the foot end of the bed.  Each also had their own dorm locker, about five feet tall and maybe two feet wide.

The lockers were lined up down the middle of the 70 foot wide floor, dividing the 140 foot length equally into north and south.  Because there were many more freshmen than sophomores, juniors or seniors, the upper classmen enjoyed slightly larger personal living spaces.  The older students, sophomores on the west side and seniors on the east side, occupied positions nearest the windows; freshmen and juniors were assigned the interior spaces.

Now if you had your own bedroom back home in Detroit or St. Louis or Chicago or Grand Rapids or Kansas City or wherever else in the Midwest you happened to come from, you might have wondered how the hell you were going to manage any degree of personal dignity living with a herd of teenagers not unlike the herds of cows well within sight of the high school.  But if you had shared a bedroom with at least four other brothers for the first fourteen years of your life – in his case, two or three of those years were shared in the same twin size bed with his younger brother – you could not begin to believe your good fortune.  His personal space had gone from something like thirty square feet to a hundred – with his own drawers and his own closet (locker) that belonged to him, that no one else (well, no one other than the fathers, of course) could access.  Yes, he was now part of a larger herd – and this pasture was a whole hell of a lot bigger than his last one.

A Bee and a Bus – Conclusion

So of course I embark on an internal conversation, with no one in particular, asking what I ever did to deserve such a harrowing brush with mortality.  No answer.  Well, there’s a shock—it would be somewhat disturbing, wouldn’t it, if there was a response?  Probably better for all concerned that things remain silent, at least on this particular question.  I decided not to worry about the matter any further, but for some reason, I was genuinely annoyed that I had had such a run-in, and, what’s more, that no one much seemed to care.

This didn’t last.  One of the more pleasing aspects of riding the bus for fifty minutes in the morning is to look at the pretty women on board.  Chicago is a very big city, with many attractive women.  And on this particular occasion, I noticed one woman in particular.  I did not get her name; I did not talk with her.  But I made a very explicit, very conscious decision to look her in the eye, with the express idea in my head to let her know that I see her, that I wanted her to see me seeing her, and that I wanted her to see me.  And, what is most important, is the idea that I wanted to connect with someone, however fleeting, for at least that one moment—to let her know, to let the universe know, that this moment mattered, that this connection, however momentary, mattered.  That we mattered, she mattered, I mattered—that all of this makes a difference.

She smiled, and I smiled.  And I like to think that she knew what I wanted her to know, knew what I wanted the universe know.  With quiet satisfaction, I turned my attention again to the grassy park rushing by.  I noticed Elvis singing again, and I thought, to no one in particular:  “Okay, that makes up for the bee.”