Friday, August 5, 2011

It Started with a Desk

During my first year of seminary, I had a favorite place in the library, a desk at which I spent a great deal of time ~ because I spent a great deal of time on Greek.  I loved that desk.  It was at the far end of the reference room on the main floor, which meant that it was in a fairly private but not entirely isolated place ~ friends would occasionally stop by.  It was one room away from the display of current periodicals, which meant that I could grab a few magazines when I came in and reward myself for every every hour or so of Greek paradigms with a relaxing read about something else.  And best of all, it was right next to a window that looked out over the walk between the library and the main classroom and administration building, so that I could entertain myself by observing everyone else's travels.

Greek took over my life that first year.  It was so difficult for me that I spent about 35 hours a week on it (yes ~ in desperation I counted them up one night) and crammed everything else into what was left over.  I did well, but the cost was high.  And I hated it. I was not destined to become a person who found meaning or beauty in the Greek language.  But I loved "my" desk.

After Josh died at the end of the summer, I doubted that I would ever go back to seminary.  But I did, in December, and when I returned to the library, seeking out my secure little space in the world, a new student ~ someone who had arrived while I was at home staring at the ceiling and wondering about my future ~ had settled into my chair at my desk.  Within a few days, it became apparent that she had done what I had done the previous year; she had staked them out as her territory.

I made a little joke about it one night, mentioning that she had found the best spot in the library and that I had spent every day and night of the previous year there.  "Oh, yes, it is the best," she responded, glancing upward over her glasses, and returned to her reading.

I had been hoping that she might say, "Let's take turns!" 

For the next year and a half, every time I walked into that room and saw my desk already occupied, it was as if my heart were pierced again ~ not by the sight of the desk that was no longer mine, but by what it stood for, by the reminder of the reason that it was no longer mine.

And I had no choice: The reference materials for Greek and Hebrew and the Scriptural commentaries are in that room.  If I were going to complete my degree, I had to use the reference room almost every day.

When I returned to school at the end of the summer after I had graduated, to spend a week taking my last ordination exam ~ there she was, taking hers.  

And when the next year's seminary calendar arrived, with its many images of students doing the things that students do, all over the campus, one of the photos had captured her studying at that desk!

I tossed that calendar into the trash before I even looked at the next month's page.

It's difficult to acknowledge that I could feel so strongly about another person's use of a chair and a desk.  But, of course, neither the inanimate objects nor their perfect location are at issue.  It's what they symbolize: a new life begun with such anticipation and joy, that life literally ripped from my grasp, and the stark choices that remained.  

"I have set before you life and death.  Choose life . . ." ~ which meant choosing to go forward in a world in which no space was what it had once been, in which ordinary routines and tasks with which I had expected to continue vanished in smoke, in which other people occupied ~ in what seemed to me the military sense of a takeover ~ that territory of security and expectations which had once been mine.

This is what it is like, to lose a child.  

Your space is gone.  In the library.  In the world.

Find a new one, or you will not make it.


  1. Yes Robin, the pieces of our once tidy, ordered and directed lives have been strewn haphazardly about and now we're left with no home, no familiarity and the daunting task of having to begin anew after digging for the courage to even climb out of our beds. Our worlds blew up, and while we grope in darkness, looking for our new paths, we see others in OUR old places who are oriented... confident. I often can't stand to look at them either.

    looking for my chair too

  2. Mary, you out that so well. Those words, orientation and confidence -- yes, other people have those things, while we are left to pretend that we do, too, while in reality we are navigating an invisible parallel world.

  3. That story tells the whole sad story. The dislocation, the end of comfort and convenience, the coziness and security of the lost life, the challenge to find something new that works, though it will never be what it was. I am sitting here in tears, and thinking that story needs to be published.
    Hugs, my friend.
    Karen East

  4. There are places you can never return kids were helping me clear out some lab space that is being repurposed and suddenly Chris is there asking about an ID card he's found. "It's a guy with a beard, Mom..." My breath catches. It's Tom's membership to the tennis courts at the local park. Photo taken 4 days before he died. I never went back there to play. Not even once. Tennis? I'd almost forgotten that I loved to play.

    Chris said it fell out of a book....

  5. {{{Michelle}}}

    Yes. There are parts of your life to which you simply cannot return.

  6. Beautifully written, Robin. Thank you.