Fleeting Things

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Doane Hall circa 1920


On August 10th at approximately 4:36 p.m., I steered my car between the gates that mark the entrance to Doane Hall for the last first time. I parked beside the door into the building, and I hauled everything up two flights of stairs to my quaint little room on the third floor. I hung my dresses in the closet, I made my bed, I decorated my bulletin board, I strung lights around my windows.

In just a few short weeks, my room has already assumed its own character in my story. Every morning, the calligraphied canvas I painted at the beach this summer reminds me to love first, then think, then speak, as Aslan told the talking animals. As I search through my closet for the floral-print dress I always wear, my eye falls on another lettered canvas that instructs me to give beauty back, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver. In the late afternoon, the young daisies and zinnias on my window sill whisper that I am still growing, that I am a work in progress, and at dusk the framed watercolors of Oxford’s High Street and Oriel College evoke the achingly pleasurable nostalgia of missing and loving a place. I wonder if, come graduation day in May, I will look back on my little room on the third floor of Doane with the same sort of nostalgia, the same missing. I suspect that I will.

I attended Eastern’s graduation at the end of my sophomore year. I cheered on those who were awarded degrees, and I celebrated with my friends who were beginning new adventures. The weekend after graduation, I moved from my dorm room in Doane to a room in a house in Wayne while the previous occupant, a friend of mine, moved out. Now a senior, I haven’t forgotten the way that, after removing all traces of herself and her belongings from the room, she turned in the doorway to take it all in, to see the room for the last time, and said quietly, “This place mattered.”

This is the strange and transient nature of the college years. We move into our dorm rooms or our apartments and fill them with ourselves, with memories and echoes, with food and laughter, music and joy. And then at the end of eight months, we vacate them. We take down our posters and pictures and we turn in our keys. We try to fit our belongings into a four-door sedan, and we drive it all back to a place that used to be home, but where we now feel like a guest. Permanence seems beyond our reach.

I will have to wait a few years for my living space to be a lasting one, one that I can fill with myself and that I can invite others into, confident that we will all stay awhile. Some say that it’s futile to put down roots when we’ll all be gone soon anyway. Why invest and build relationships that will dissolve as soon as we scatter?

Frederick Buechner writes, “All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from it. Today is the only day there is.” There is today, and right now, today is all we know and all we can know. We can notice the way that the slanting rays of light illumine the changing leaves. We can rejoice in rhythm, and in the truth that time is linear, but also cyclical. We can love, and take in beauty, and worship in the light of the Giver of all good gifts. We can see the world in all its holy mystery and flickering starlight, and we can exalt the One who has made it such a place. We can know that we are not alone on this journey of life, and we can weep and laugh and dance and revel together.

Not only can we do these things; we must do them. They are essential. They are what it means to be fully human in a place, to enjoy the good gifts of heaven and earth and to feast on the knowledge that the Lord has made us to love and be loved. Walk in love, the apostle instructs us, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God. After all, the God-man who taught us how to love wasn’t here in the flesh for very long either.

In eight months, we will scatter. In the face of that uncertainty, this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice.

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