“After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.”
I found the above sentence earlier today when I opened my laptop. Chrome had kindly saved the tabs that were open before I closed it last, including the one in which I now type. “After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.” There it is, a reminder of my inability to sit down and write without being distracted by the internet or sleep. It’s also a reminder that 48 hours ago I was able to pause for prayer and introspection during what I am realizing will be the most frantic summer of my life.
Something that I have tried to do recently is to be aware of the presence of God. People go about this in different ways, but for me I think I need routine. I am generally able to stay on top of Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours, which consists of different prayers and Scripture readings for each part of the day, but I’m not the best at keeping up with my church’s Bible reading plan. I’ve also begun to carry around Anglican prayer beads in my pocket. My mother bought me a set four years ago. After a few months of fervent devotion they fell cold from my hands. Since then, they have been one of those small things that I pack to take with me whenever I fly back and forth between Seattle and Grand Rapids but never actually use. Now when I’m walking around campus I’ll do a lap on the beads if I remember.
Perhaps the simplest thing I’ve begun to do is to keep a candle lit in my bedroom—a small, white, tea candle. I remember going to mass at my Roman Catholic elementary school in New Hampshire and seeing the little candle dangling in red glass next to the tabernacle. It is kept lit to honor Christ and to remind people of his presence. At the end of freshman year someone gave me a box filled completely with tea candles, so I have enough presence to last me at least until the end of the summer. It is a good practice for me because once it is lit, I don’t need to remember to do anything, I just see it and the little postcard next to it of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery.
Back to the most frantic summer of my life. I’m working full time for my school and interning with Image Journal.The job for my school is actually pretty enjoyable because it is largely team based—and my team is a good one. Together we facilitate the various conferences that are held on campus over the summer. My bosses keep track of hundreds of swarming details about our clients’ stay—the rooms they need, the food they need, the extra tables they need for displays, their times of arrival and departure, the maintenance they request for broken light bulbs and other whoopsadasies—while keeping track of the bigger picture. We, the summer helpers, are here to assist in all of this, but even we create work for them: training and question answering. The most impressive thing about the operation is that the encroaching stress of constant deadlines never effects the office’s sense of humor. Even when there are many balls in the air to keep track of, we’re just juggling.
Day one of my internship with Image was last week. I think Day Ones of anything tend to be the equivalent of a dog eyeing its chosen spot on the floor, circling it several times, sitting down on its haunches, possibly getting up again for a minor adjustment, and ultimately taking a really good nap. Circling comes before nap. Nesting comes before egg. Orientation comes before internship.
Half an hour or so into day two of my internship, I was the first person in the office (repurposed house, actually) to receive notification that SPU was in lockdown. The Image house is on the edge of campus, and several blocks away, unbeknownst to us as we went gaily about our journal creating, roamed a man with a gun. I hesitantly asked the room if anyone knew anything about the campus being in a lockdown. The two or three other people in the room hastened to check their emails. No one had received an official notification yet so we stood looking at each other, at our phones, and then back at each other for a minute as we experienced the bizarre tension found between the possible realities of everything-is-normal and there-could-be-an-armed-gunman-outside-our-building. One of my coworkers began tentatively closing his blinds and turning off his lights.
The notification came—it was no drill—so we weighed our options. Upstairs, downstairs, or stay here? The ground floor has too many windows, so upstairs. upstairsupstairs Look around. mmmmmmmMaybe the basement is better. I didn’t know there was a basement. Huh. downstairsdownstairsdownstairs Oh right. The basement was a small room filled with large boxes of old copies of the journal. I looked around the space with the two others seeking refuge in the basement: the woman who oversees me and the tentatively-closing-his-blinds guy. We quickly noticed the window on the outside wall, through which anyone walking by the house could look down and see us—a trio of confused, amused, and concerned current and past English majors much out of our element. My supervisor grabbed some small pieces of cardboard and I ran to find some tape. Together we covered the window. As we did so, someone came running down the stairs. I turned to see my other boss brandishing a pair of scissors. “HERE. TAKE THESE FOR DEFENSE,” she said, thrusting the scissors into my hand—the handle, thank God, not the blades—before dashing back up the stairs.
Closing-his-blinds guy made a seat for himself on top of the boxes, whipped out his laptop, and logged onto Netflix. I took out the Anglican prayer beads in my pocket. In the name of the Father and the Son and “Who wants to watch Better Off Ted?” said blinds guy. My supervisor said that she would like to and she joined us on the boxes, only after taking a picture of the two of us huddled amidst old quarterlies in the basement of our office—me with my prayer beads and blinds guy with his laptop. I put the beads away and joined them.
We didn’t make it through one episode of Better Off Ted before we were alerted that the gunman had been taken care of, or “apprehended,” by the police. He apparently hadn’t tried to shoot anyone. For all I know it could have been someone visiting Seattle who was unaware that people here don’t own guns, and if they do, they certainly don’t take them places. Or it could have been someone who was actually dangerous. It can be hard to know the difference sometimes.
I safely walked up the hill to start my shift for the school.