Mississippi river near train tracks in Hannibal Missouri

Thirty Years Later On the Banks of the Mississippi

Here on the banks of the Mississippi, in Hannibal where I lived two decades ago, I wonder:

How much time has really passed? Have I grown up enough? Too much?

This river, these tracks, all the trees along the winding path to get here – they know me.  They remember watching me weep, laugh, pray, sing.

Those tracks – even after a million train cars have squealed by, they sense me and draw back to the time a thoughtless (soulless?) boy ripped the pantyhose off a 17-year-old girl in a black skirt with pink flowers.

The river – down the way by the old ice factory – remembers its heavy ice blanket in the winter of ’96 or so, holding up a recent college grad as she tested the frozen bay and traversed to the opposite shore.

These mighty oaks and maples, they remember my love – how I adored them, especially in fall when they showed off their talents, and a few weeks later, showered me with floating leaves they’d discarded, and a few weeks after that, listened as I crunched over those lifeless leaves blanketing the pathway.

They all – the river, the tracks, the trees – watched with delight as my dog ran free, and chuckled to discover I had no control over my furry friend when it was time to go back up the bluff toward a truck that would take her home.

journal on a stone ledge above the Mississippi RiverUp above at the stone wall overlook, I would sit for hours, days, months, years – the river, tracks and trees still collecting my thoughts. From there, they would see me scratch out bad poems in journals, watch over my arguments with a guy – a different one, one who definitely had a soul – who would push me to discover more of the world, of myself, of truth. They would nod in recognition that this was good, even as I drove away from a heated discussion, crunching new glasses beneath the tires of a little blue car.

Even Mark Twain himself, made of granite, towering over the river he loved (and maybe hated, too), observed as friends gathered beneath his gaze, taking stupid photos that one day would be prized possessions. Did the river know, or the tracks, or the trees, that one of those giggling friends would die too soon, would crush our spirits, and yet, even in death, make us laugh again?

What did the river, the tracks, the trees think when I visited for the last time before a journey 2,000 miles west, to take photos of my dog and my truck? What did they think of my urge to leave this place behind and to find myself somewhere else? Did they know I would settle along another river, other tracks, among other trees, ones that would never shower me with falling leaves? Did they send wishes through the wind to their distant friends the pines, to be gentle with me, to allow me to continue my journey of discovery? Did the Mighty Mississippi send currents of encouragement through tributaries that would find their way to the Pacific Northwest to say, “Watch this girl. Support her when she walks on your thin veneer in winter”? The iron tracks, did they reverberate codes along rails that traverse the Rockies, and say, “Be steady for her. Be still when she navigates the paths of loneliness, and failed marriage, and parenting alone”?

Did these old friends from Missouri – the river, the tracks, the trees – send me off with well wishes that I didn’t hear? Did they know that someday almost 30 years later, I’d return to feel their presence again? Did they sense – or at least hope – that this time I’d come with a soul mate who would never threaten my trust, who would support me in continuing to grow and learn and search and be myself? And that he would love this river, too – for different reasons, but nonetheless would honor all that my friends, the river, the tracks, and the trees had meant to me?

They may not have known. They may not have planned it or even guided the journey, nor sent good intentions. But it seems they rejoice, today, that all this has come to be.

 

What I’ve Learned: 4 Years at Gonzaga U

On November 17, I hit my four-year anniversary at Gonzaga University, a place I had my eye on for a few years before the perfect job opened for me. I remember going to campus with my mom and having her take a photo of me in front of the iconic statue of St. Ignatius by College Hall, and claiming that the job was mine before it was actually offered to me. I remember the two goofs hanging out in my office when I moved in, who instantly made me feel it was the right move. I’d always known I wanted to return to higher education, and being at Gonzaga has confirmed why.

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#1. College students are optimistic, not yet so jaded by “the real world.” And when they do see a depressing reality, they respond with, “What can we do to change this?”

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#2. There is positive energy on a college campus … all the time. At Gonzaga, music blares from dorm windows on Friday afternoons, students hang from trees in hammocks, they come up with creative inside jokes to just about everything.

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#3. College basketball is fun. Who knew? Sports in general aren’t my thing, but the Kennel during basketball season is a ball (get it?) to watch.

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#4. Jesuit students are impressive young people who naturally want to serve the greater good and not focus so much on what they will achieve for their own personal benefit. Learning and contemplating among them is a gift.

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#5. Lifelong learning is never in question. When you’re surrounded by so many incredibly intelligent people, how can you not be learning constantly?

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#6. A campus is a mixing bowl of art and music and meaning and growth that never ceases to produce a craving for more. #magis

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#7. Jesuits are cool, thoughtful people. And their tradition of self-examination makes a significant difference in the life of a workplace.

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#8. Creating a magazine chock full of examples of all these things is the best job ever.

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#9. Doing that with an amazing team that has fun doing the work is icing on the cake.

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#10. I’m blessed to be here.

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