The above cornerstone makes the intent clear of the St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska. I just got back from a couple of days there at the board retreat for the state affiliate of the National Writing Project. It’s core value sounds like James to me, “The Best Teachers of Writing are Writers Themselves.” This organization believes that it’s not enough to say it–you gotta do it! I explored the center and even got a chance to go to morning prayer with a group of monks. I felt a little out of place in my striped shirt and shiny earrings–in contrast to the Monk’s ankle length black robes, but I somehow fit into the spirit of the words, if not the dress code. Below are three pieces of writing from my time on the board’s writing marathon. If you’ve never been on one before, the goal is to write in and be inspired by a place. If someone asks you what you’re doing, you have to simply respond, “I’m a writer.” It’s a bold statement that makes me nervous, but I always come back from marathons feeling refreshed, with my eyes better-tuned to my own space. I like to approach writing marathons with an eye for God’s spirit. Our marathon took us into small town Schuyler to the courthouse and surrounding area. Enjoy!
Green and white tiles remind me of my grandmother or some old church basement. Each tile is clean, but worn-dingy from shoes squeaking today and clacking through yesterdays. I wonder at the lines for DRIVER’S LICENSE EXAMINER, written in block letters that scream authority. Maybe a woman sat there, like me, scared to enter new territory, scared to show what might set her apart in a world of same after same. We both sense God’s calling. She wonders, maybe it would be simpler to just stay in the passenger seat. Surely her mother had done so and been happy, but the tug between peace and a desire to do more looms, pulled taut. Could she be both today? Could she sit up straight in her chair and her own skin? Later in life, the driver’s license examiner sign screaming authority in capital letters just whispers, faded and forgotten, eclipsed by roads taken. As her country daughter sits in those same seats somehow thinking of grandma, she easily slips her feet into the fear forged footprints. She sits next to girl friends, who drove to volleyball camp this morning in cheap cars fueled on giggles and dad’s corn payment. They lean into the center girl, somehow the leader, all unaware of the courageous steps that marked their way, now mere echoes of shoes clicking, as sneakers squeak on green and white tiles.
We explore past manicured flower beds gracefully guarded by a yellow string and turn the corner to see the front of what was rock eight feet high and five wide. The depth comes on the other side as a copper-gray placard, held in place by four bolts, three covered by flower buttons. One flat top screw hit sits naked and bear under the words “Post Number 34, Civil War Memorial 1961-1965.” Names line up in a list so long it might not contain any one name. A sea green cast swirls in the names with no real method, brightest green on the bottom, seemingly worn out from running over such a list of grandpas. I squint, wanting to single out just one nome–like that would somehow honor the sacrifice, and this rock that I couldn’t move if I tried. I life in a life made possible by sacrifice, by these men. . . by Jesus. . . how might I live in any other response than to notice and say thank you for the flower beds gracefully guarded by a yellow string.
The museum is closed. Chipped orange paint whittles around green smudge spots. Stubborn paint wants to get out. I was like that, running away–sort of–from small town bully girls and the me that didn’t quite fit. Maybe I wasn’t running away as much as toward bigger. . . better. Who am I kidding? I was running toward hunky love, now my husband who sports a beard and hair that hide his hunkiness from everyone but me. Each time we drove back to the farm from our new city place, we could feel the quiet slip over us. Now our mortgage sits in a small town mailbox, two down from my in-laws, in a place where the mailman will take your under-posted letter and leave you an envelope to make up the change. I wonder at the town’s lifespan. Will my daughter know neighbors or empty houses when she comes home to visit us, wrinkled and gray? I don’t want to spend my life patching stubborn paint for nobody to see, but I do want the museum to be open. I do want our daughter to know why we ran away and why we ran back. To know the history, why we believe, yet wonder enough to find out for herself, and then run in joy and notice all the glory–sometimes bearded–running in the same direction.