February 8, 2012

The Anonymity of Warmth

 There’s a small bench on the south side of campus where I like to sit. It doesn’t have a spectacular view, but it’s a quiet place. There is a small fountain littered with coins of different values. The fountain’s murmur is uneventful. You must make a conscious effort to listen to it. During summer the water evaporates in the Texas heat. Now, in the cooler months, the water is more resilient, and it seems its murmur must be heard. This is what I am thinking as I try to justify leaving my office to walk across campus. I have essays to grade. Do I really have time?
I like this particular bench. I often sit there and write. At a distance is the music building. On any given day beautiful cello music seeps through the windows, begging you to stop and listen. Sometimes you can capture a moment, just a moment, of happiness. All the components are there: faraway music, the water in the fountain is alive, and students walk to and from class. I dare to believe they are all seeking knowledge; wrestling with new ideas. Maybe I have simply romanticized the idea of academe.
2012 1504 page23Today the bench is occupied by a student, I am certain. She is on my bench, but there is still room. As I approach the bench, up close, the scene becomes completely different. A young woman sits with a half-opened gift box on her lap. A gift that holds none of her interest as her gaze falls upon the fountain. I quietly sit on the opposite side of the bench in silence, listening to the water’s murmur and the rustle of dead leaves in the cold breeze. She rubs her hands together. It’s cold. Where are her gloves? A few minutes pass. There is no music. I look around. The windows in the music building are closed.
“Are you expecting someone?”
Her question startles me. I explain that I often come here to enjoy the surroundings. I share that in the afternoons someone often plays the cello. She asks if the music is good. It is simply beautiful! She studies my face for a moment, looks at the fountain, and slides the half-open gift across the bench toward me. She nods as if giving me permission to look into the box.
I push tissue paper out of the way to reveal an elegant picture frame with a photo of a little girl holding a cello. The picture is old, but it is definitely her. The engraving reads: “You Are Blessed.”
She is the cellist. It’s beautiful. I tell her this. She rubs her hands together again. Suddenly her hands seem more valuable and precious. I quickly take off my gloves and hand them to her. She hesitates for a moment, then accepts them. This small gesture of warmth has provided trust between us. She tells me of her upcoming solo concert, how she cannot remember the day the picture was taken, but remembers the occasion. She is apprehensive of her music degree. “I just thought I would help people, not simply entertain them.” I pray God is eavesdropping on our conversation.
From my coat pocket I pull out a small blank book I always carry with me. I flip through pages, showing her all I have written while sitting in this very spot listening to her music. Surprised, she asks what I will do with all these words. I don’t know. I hope God will shape them, inspire others. Sometimes it feels like the ink stays on the page, heavy with memory. Like the picture.
“You are a blessing,” I tell her. “The gift God has given you is a blessing. Let Him use it.” She smiles through tears.
The cold breeze is now a cold wind. I will take the essays home to grade. My last stop is the office mailbox. Inside is a manila envelope. As I open the envelope a pair of gloves bearing the school insignia fall out. These are from the bookstore. Who was watching me? The note simply reads: You are a blessing too.
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published February 9, 2012.