The ridge to the east hides the actual moment of dawn. What I see first is a brilliant outburst spilling westward over the ridge. When I got up from meditation this morning, the kitchenette outside the zendo was illuminated by soft yellow sunlight. I came downstairs and opened all the blinds. Now I’m sitting on a radiator (yes, sitting on a radiator; I miss the heated floors of Korea and this is the closest I can get) facing east. The sun has risen above the ridge and is tangling her long flaxen hair in the trees.
I nearly pulled an all-nighter this week. I feel chagrin saying that. At my age, I’d hoped I had developed better strategies for getting work done than blunt, brute force. It seemed so immature, to find myself starting a response paper for a class at 11:42 at night, fighting the panic rising as I stared at a blank Word document and tried to begin. What did I think about the poetics of the Shijing (“時經” The Book of Songs)? Eventually I thought enough to get a page out, single-spaced. Agony, that single page: my tongue felt thick in my mouth, so to speak, and I struggled over every sentence, obsessed over every word. It’s been over ten years since I last had to write anything like that, and I strained to draw my argument first into the open, and then to a reasonable close. I am out of this kind of shape. The intellect is a muscle; mine is moving in ways it hasn’t for years. Whether I said anything insightful, or even moderately reasonable about the text, I couldn’t say right now. I am tuckered out by the effort and exhausted by the foray into the early regions of dawn. The whole event had me reciting 4 am by Wislawa Szymborska to myself.
Back and forth to campus, back and forth to campus. I’m not a student in the proper sense, accepted and registered and numbered among the scholastic corp. But I have a way in. I am connected to the university by the fine and durable thread of my former years with them: I am an alumna. And the professors are kind, and the departments are kind, and they let me in, and so I go back and forth to campus and sit at the table and listen and learn, and write response papers from midnight to four a.m., wondering how on earth I did this at the frenetic and breakneck pace I did a decade and more ago. I feel young in other ways, though. Now I am old enough and far away enough from the sense of entitlement I carried around in those years to know, this is a rare and wonderful opportunity. I come to it breathless and probably a little too taken with the idea of the University. But I’m seduced and enthralled by it only because I know what a dream it is, and if it seems naive and young for me to be so eager and enthusiastic, then know it is an eagerness and enthusiasm hard-won.
Tomorrow evening I’ll join a small group of people in a classmate’s apartment to read John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” out loud. “To savor the language,” said the young law student who organized the readings. Yes. To savor. Everything.