Pieces and Promises

I’m terrible with resolutions. I’m always making commitments to go running more often, and then I don’t go running all winter, because it’s too cold, it gets dark too early, there are other things to do. I enjoy running, but only when it’s convenient and I happen to be in the mood for it, which means I rarely go running. I have multiple excuses to shield my conscience from my lack of activity, but therein lies the problem: I’m good at sliding out of promises to myself, no matter what they are. When I really need things to happen, I tell someone.

I made a commitment to write more often. Not that anyone really knew that. I didn’t spell it out or sign any documents. But it’s important. So I guess this is my way of telling someone. The problem is I have things I know I’m supposed to write,  but I only ever want to write what is so pressing and obnoxious that the only way to deal with it is to put it into words. So you see I don’t want to work on those poems I know I should be writing right now.

The other day a friend asked what the highlights of my life were. Those kinds of questions are so hard to answer. I always want to say something deep and meaningful, want to talk about something that changed my life, and then all that comes to mind are these small moments that aren’t even what I’d call “highlights” in the traditional sense of the word. Just random, regular memories, I suppose.

I remember my junior year of high school I played keyboards with the youth group worship team, and I got to know the drummer, Alex. And by “got to know”, I mean “had a crush on.” I don’t recall the occasion, but at some point he was driving his Ford Escape and I was riding in the backseat with another friend. I think we’d just gone to 7-Eleven to buy Arizona Tea and Slurpees. We were on a back road of sorts, and it was straight and flat and there was no one else around, and Alex started accelerating faster and faster and we were flying, and I remember feeling a little tense rush of uncertainty about going that fast, but the next second deciding to enjoy the moment: I clutched my can of Arnold Palmer and laughed into the wind rushing through the car windows.

I remember student teaching and having Prof. Vanden Bosch come observe me. I was teaching a lesson on gerunds that day. In my list of examples I’d accidentally included a participle, which looks exactly the same as a gerund except that it’s used as an adjective instead of as a noun. I caught myself, but only once it was too late. I sat down after class with Vanden Bosch, who gave me beautifully encouraging feedback, but couldn’t resist chuckling and noting the error. “I was wondering if you’d catch that, Ms. DiMaria,” he said with a smile as I turned pink and acknowledged my mistake. I teach gerunds and participles all the time now. I also think Gerund could make a fine name for a baby boy. My students disagree, and my friends think it would be mean. Personally, I think it’s preferable to Participle.

I remember singing in Cambodia, sitting on the floor of an empty tiled room, afraid to lean against the wall because of the bugs and lizards crawling all over it. We all sat in a circle in the dark; we couldn’t find the lights, and anyway they would just attract more bugs. The moon and thousands of stars glittering in the black sky cast a pale outline on those sitting closest to the open doorway in the corner. We tried to talk about the day, but everyone was tired and the floor was hard and it was humid and sticky. Instead we sang the Doxology. It was one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever heard. The hard tile of the room echoed and reverberated our melodies and harmonies. Our nine voices became a full choir and I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of nowhere in a third world country, because for thirty seconds I was sitting in the greatest cathedral, singing to a God who occupied our dirty little tiled room with us, and who surely must have been pleased by this music his children sang to him. Praise, praise God, from whom all blessing flow. Praise him, all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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