This has been a year. A year for taking the long look back, forty-two years that seem a day—what my friend Donald Hall called the one day, every other day too frantic to recognize this day Henry David Thoreau knew we will each come to, asking have we lived, been attentive to what each day has to discover.
This past semester, Spring 2019, my final semester at Hardin-Simmons University, one of the memoirs my English 3300 students and I studied was Maria Mutch’s book Know The Night. My favorite scene is the one in which Maria, out for a run around the edge of a pond, encounters the “hunched form” of a fox “exposed in daylight as though sleeping in grass” (p. 107). Maria stops to study the fox she thinks is dead. It isn’t. Not yet. The fox turns her face, eyes “shut tight as fists” (p. 107), toward Maria. This is encounter, paying attention, and attention must be paid, and done so with reverence, with recognition—what we come to know paying respect for what we are given, taking notes somewhere inside, then, like Maria, slipping away, taking our “presence and intrusion” (p. 107) with us—a shared experience, a life of such encounters, a good life, day by day.
First day of class, knowing it would be my last semester at Hardin-Simmons, I felt compelled to try and define our course of study, our semester, our life together:
Who knows but this is the first and last time we will share this course. What will we learn? What will we not be able to forget? What will we carry with us into the night? What may light our way?
This is a course about discovering what we didn’t know, what we have always known, following the process that will lead us there. A course in which we will follow a path of words to something unexpected waiting for us to claim as our own, share with those who need it, recognizing our kinship, what it means to be travelers, each day a new discovery, never knowing quite where we are, each day a light unto our path.
This is a course in which we will savor the taste of words, how they can be delicious on our tongue, delight in the way they look, how they sound, their smell, their touch. Words no one has known until we share them.
This is a course in which we will slow down, walk softly, attentive to the people and places of our world, people on the edges of our life, strangers we lift our hand to, waving. Attention must be paid.
A course in which we will know the night, its darkness and light, its colors, its sounds, its silence. We will come to recognize others who rise in the night, populate the corridors of memory, taking our hand, leading us to what we almost forgot—loss and remembrance. To every season a turning. A love story.