Last night, I was at an orientation for my new teaching job. As usual, I was early, so I got my agenda and (dreaded) nametag, settled into a chair, and started to read. I have slipped in this habit of reading in the gaps of time in my day, but it’s a pattern I’d like to readopt.
In high school, I’d read between class, devouring a few pages of Frankenstein before English started or making my way through a novel before Calculus. I used books as a way to fill the spaces between things, and I not only read a lot of books this way, but this pattern also helped keep me out of trouble. I wasn’t a kid prone to trouble – goodie-two-shoes really fit me – but I am a woman prone to worry and, honestly, nosiness. I get involved in the problems of others by overhearing conversations, or I get wrapped up in my own concerns in unhealthy, unintentional ways. Reading keeps me focused on something meaningful.
I had this lesson yesterday as I waited for a doctor’s appointment. It had been almost an hour, and I was getting frustrated. I did have a book (Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty) with me, and that helped me stay busy. As my frustration started to build, I noticed that a copy of the Desiderata was hanging on the wall above the examination table. It has been years since I read that poem, so I stood up and gave it a look. These lines jumped out to me –
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Talk about a well-placed poster. I thought about the words, took comfort, and went back to my book. A little grace extended, again, through reading.
So today, as I teach my first classes of the semester, I will carry my book close by as a way to keep me busy while I wait for class to start, as a way to fill my time between classes, as a way to keep perspective in my day.
– by Mark Kennedy