Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Silver Taps: At last I understand.

Once there was a grad student. She had a home and a job far away. She came to campus only for class, usually once a week. She did this for years, until she finished her classes. Then she didn’t come to campus at all.

She didn’t understand the Aggie Spirit. Texas A&M was the institution at which she was enrolled, and that was all. She didn’t grasp the strange, almost cult-like kinship Aggies seemed to share, and even found it annoying. Why must they whoop at every mention of their school? And what are the strange motions they make with their hands? Who were these Texas Aggies? Did they really think they were better than everyone else? Perhaps she was a tad resentful, as people sometimes are when a circle closes, leaving them outside.

Last year, she came to Muster. There she caught a glimmer of that unique bond that ties the Aggie family together. Years from now, when her dissertation is a distant memory, and her time on earth is done, would a comrade answer “Here” for her?

Over time, the memory of Muster dimmed, buried by the busy-ness of life. But once started, such a spark could not be completely extinguished. Our grad student started coming to campus more, as often as her job duties allowed. She even made it to a football game. She can now sing most of the words to the Aggie War Hymn, as long as there is a strong singer nearby for her to follow. Still, she still often felt more like a visitor than a true Aggie.

Tonight, she went to Silver Taps.

Walking through the blackened campus, she had difficulty recognizing the buildings and wished she’d spent more time there. Unsure of her way, she strained to see shadowy figures far ahead, and followed them to the Academic Plaza. As a city dweller constantly surrounded by light, she loved the cloak of darkness—it dimmed sight but sharpened her other senses.

Standing in silence, she thought of students she didn’t know—students snatched away, to the heartbreak of their friends and families. As she listened to the hymns tolled by faraway chimes, she was sad because she couldn’t remember all the words, and vowed to spend more time listening to hymns, and singing them. From the front row, she could see the Corps cadets, arrayed in silent vigil. She thought of all the planning and practice that went into this evening. Just turning off all the campus lights must be a huge logistical challenge. All this for two Aggies? Yes. Would they have done it for just one? Yes.

Click…..Click…..Click. As the Ross Volunteers entered, clad all in white, she wondered…are they nervous? Are any of them praying they won’t make a mistake? …an error in timing, a slip of the hand on a rifle… There would have been no condemnation, of course; but still—no one wanted anything to tarnish the moment. And nothing did.

As the bugles’ last haunting notes died away, she thought of respect, and loyalty, and honor. Fallen we are, full of selfishness and every bad thing; yet we are made in God’s image and thus we get it right at times. Tonight was one of those times.

At last, at last she understood.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sbisa Dining Hall: Death of a Dream

(This is Stop #20 in the Texas A&M Building Writing Tour, my attempt to motivate myself on my dissertation by writing in every campus building before I graduate.)

Well, it’s gone. Over. Dead.

My beautiful, magnificent, splendid writing streak is done. It lasted over a year, and I had secretly hoped to keep it going until I graduated. For 382 days in a row, I wrote continuously for at least 30 minutes. I was sure I would at least make it to 400. (Why are numbers ending in 00 somehow more satisfying? Completely illogical.)

My writing streak died last night at midnight, but I didn’t discover its death until lunchtime today, in Sbisa Dining Hall's underground cafĂ© where I had settled in for a pleasant lunchtime writing session. I couldn’t decide between Chik-Fil-A and Mombo Subs, so I compromised, pairing a Mombo sandwich with CFA’s waffle fries. I opened my file to work, and I opened my writing log spreadsheet to document my session. Then, a shock: there was no entry for yesterday.

I stared at the log, hoping to discover a mistake. I scoured my paper journal, to see if I’d written longhand without recording the date. I cast my mind through all of yesterday’s events, from getting up in the late morning, to the doctor’s appointment, to packing up my stuff, and driving to my College Station apartment for two days of self-imposed dissertation boot camp. I remembered settling in for a relaxing evening, catching up on emails and other miscellaneous dissertation-related tasks. I didn’t even open my writing log, thinking I’d written that morning. Somehow my dissertation-addled brain mixed yesterday morning up with the previous morning…I remembered an actual morning writing session, but my mind placed it on the wrong day. I could easily have written half an hour last night, without even staying up late.

If only I’d known my writing streak was dying at that very moment, I wouldn’t have been so upset about shattering my beloved water mug in the apartment parking lot. Yes, yesterday was one of those days everything fell apart: me, my water mug, and my writing streak. I wonder, do other grad students occasionally have days filled with panic, when nothing goes well, and they’re terrified they won’t be able to finish? Hmmm, it’s probably just me. I must say, the writing streak has helped with that—ever since I developed a daily writing habit, my percentage of panic-filled days has decreased.

A wise professor once advised me to voluntarily end my writing streak after a year. I wish I’d listened to her. I suspect she know I was bound to blow it if I kept going. She probably feared, with good reason, that if I failed at something so simple as writing every day, I would become very discouraged about my dissertation. I’m sure she knew it would hurt more to lose this writing streak than last year’s writing streak, which had only been with me for 145 days.

I am keenly aware of how a small setback can snowball into deep discouragement, if you're not careful. Don’t worry, I have invested far too much in this little project to let that happen. I am determined to press on and not lose heart. Once I get past the momentary sadness, I’m sure I’ll see this in a positive light. Perhaps now, instead of being satisfied with spending 30 minutes a day writing about a building, I’ll chase some bigger and more meaningful writing goals.

Important disclaimer: Except for a few small edits, I wrote the above portion of this post on Thursday, January 24, the same day I learned of my writing streak’s demise. As usual, I am running behind transferring my photos and posting my building blurbs. Bad habits are tough to break at the best of times…please cut me some slack while I’m in mourning.

Oh, I almost forgot…this blog post is supposed to be about a building! I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about Sbisa Dining Hall. My writing streak’s death had rattled me, and my powers of observation were nearly nonexistent that day. All I noticed about the Sbisa underground were the murals on the walls. I liked them. They were very well done, but not so well done as to be the work of a professional (at least I hope not). My guess is that they were created by a bunch of different student groups.