opus one

Every day is a symphony.

The first movement opens with a shrill beepbeepbeepbeep beepbeepbeepbeep beepbeepbeepbeep, followed by the rustling of sheets, the rustling of clothes, a fountain, a flush, a backpack’s zipper, and the squeak of a door being closed slowly as to not awaken the roommate who woke up with the first beepbeepbeepbeep but is kind enough to pretend that he is still asleep.  Rubber-soled shoes squeak on linoleum and patter on stone.  The pattern of the patter is altered as staircases are descended.  A silent door is opened and for the first time a low murmuring of voices can be heard.

The tenor opens his mouth in a brief solo.

“Good morning.”

A lower voice responds.

“Good morning.”

Silverware jingles and plates clink.  A chair scraping against the floor marks the end of the first movement.  The soloist sits down to breakfast.

This week marked the beginning of my first regular paid job.  It is only five hours a week.  This is ideal.  The job is that of a teacher’s assistant.  The teacher I’m assisting is from the theology department and is not teaching any classes this quarter.  My tasks are mainly organizing bibliographies, social networking, and perhaps some proofreading.  My work hours are my choice.  Minimum wage in Washington State is nine dollars something.  The job is perfect.

I work in the morning after breakfast.  My breakfast consistently consists of an omelet, a scone, bun, or mini muffin, and a cup of coffee.  The woman who makes the omelets is new.   She looks vaguely Eastern European.  Her English is good, but if I respond to “Would you like cheese?” with “That would be great,” instead of “Yes please,” she furrows her brows and looks at me funny for a second before sprinkling cheddar on the coagulating egg bed of my breakfast.  Her omelets are great.

One of the managers occasionally serves food.  I ran into her today.  After picking up a vegetable wrap I headed to get some fries, a treat I rarely allow myself.  The slotted spoon used to scoop them onto plates was left on the far side of the pan, so I reached for it.  The manager lady started clucking at me as she hobbled over the same way I imagine a concerned five-foot-tall garden gnome would if someone touched his shrubbery.

“The handle is over here.  For me.  Not over there for you.

“Oh sorry!”

“And don’t you want some meat?”

“Um… not right now, thanks.”

“COME on.”

One Monday morning last year when I was already running late to class I had a little accident in the food hall.  I filled my Starbucks travel mug with coffee and placed it in front of a small refrigerator that houses cream, whole milk, soy milk, and rice milk for your coffee.  I violently opened the refrigerator door.  I felt a flash of pain in the crotch as I realized that I had knocked the travel mug over onto myself.  Its contents were now on the floor and in my pants.

I frantically looked about me like a prairie dog, praying that no one saw this transpire.  Walking towards me was the manager lady with some towels in her hands and a slight smile on her face.

“You know you aren’t allowed to bring those in here, right?”

Yes, of course.


She helped me mop up the coffee, but the towels couldn’t pick up my dignity.  I got to class fifteen minutes late after a shower and change of pants.

Because of this incident I like to think that the two of us are old friends by now and she is just playfully sarcastic.

“You aren’t and she isn’t,” says a friend.   “I worked for her.”

The second movement is grey.  It is accompanied by the fleeting sweet scent of what I’m told is an olive tree.  Do olive trees smell?

The rubber-soled shoes motif returns, now with grass and brick.  A conversation between the tenor and an alto carries the movement to a recently constructed building.  The tenor and alto join a choir as it shuffles into a classroom and sits down.  A black-robed man stands before them and drones on for an hour and twenty minutes.  The choir accompanies with clicking keyboards and scratching pens.

I am excited by the idea that the kingdom of heaven is already here surrounding us.  Maybe I misunderstood my professor, but I think he said that a couple of days ago.  If that were the case, would the people walking around me be angels?  That would be nice.  It would at least justify the belief I have that people are fundamentally good.

People are not angels.  I know that.  But I would like to understand what my professor said.  He also said that there are many ways to think about theology, one of which being struggle.  That made me feel holier than usual.

The second movement repeats until the last class is done.  The choir exits and their slow pace sets the tempo for the long third movement, the adagio.  Leaves crunch under feet.  One by one the students find their destination.  The sound diminishes with each departed pair of feet.

The soloist climbs up stairs accompanied by a quartet of hushed voices.  The tempo slows as the group continues to climb.  And climb.  Rubber-soled shoes on stone, then linoleum.  The jingling of keys and the squeak of an opening door. The rustle of clothes, humming and a contained downpour, plastic bristles against teeth,  the flick of a switch, the rustle of sheets.

The conductor slowly lowers his baton.  Everything slowly fades away.

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