I’ve been poor of spirit for a few days, and I say that because it is foreshadowing and a biblical allusion (write that down, students; it’ll be on the final exam). Perhaps it has been apparent from my recent blogposts, or lackthereof, but I am down in the proverbial dumps. My isolation has been tough this semester and though my students are unusually excellent, I feel more disconnected than ever as life streams on back home and I stay moored right here on the mountainside teaching students how to write a topic sentence.
The straw that broke this camel’s back most recently was losing my hard drive. I am an idiot when it comes to electronics. Not only can’t I work them, but I’m also a hazard to their health. Two lost cameras, one broken camera, one stepped-on laptop, and one stepped-on kindle speak clearly enough. I also suspect that my college roommate’s ongoing computer problems might have something to do with my bad juju.
But I don’t lose my hard drive. It is everything: pictures, documents, my memory. You know those stupid get-to-know-you games (that I love) that ask things like, “What three things would you rescue if your house is on fire?” My hard drive outguns every other material possession without firing a shot. (You know what thing I wouldn’t take out of my burning apartment? My refrigerator. Which makes more noise than the cats eating each other below my window every night.)
But that last detail, I would tell my sophomore composition students, is extraneous (I wouldn’t use that word). So back to the controlling idea, stated in my winner of a topic sentence: I’m bummed. I’m bummed and I’ve forgotten that I have an appointment with some random student who somehow got my number and texted me yesterday asking for help on something who knows what but I’m late. I ran up the stairs (erm, walked, but at a steady, stomping pace) and found her waiting, smiling.
“Hi!” she said.
I tried not to glower. It was that kind of day. I barreled halfway past her to my office, gestured for her to come along, and managed a bland, “Hi, what’s your name.”
I’m embarrassed to say that even at my best, Korean names still escape me, so I have no idea what she answered. I think it had an h in it and maybe a y.
“Well, I’m teaching English at my church for the children and I don’t English very well and the children English so well and they laugh at my pronunciation.”
Pain is very self-absorbing, you see, so that was the first time that day I really felt something like concern for another human being besides myself.
“Those jerks. Did you smack ‘em?”
I didn’t say that, but I like to think my facial expression did. She went on.
“I saw on your door says “Ask, seek, and knock, so I was so hopeful! I hope for help on pronunciation.”
She obviously hadn’t read the part about “and bring me cookies” that I had added to Matthew 7:7, but I let it slide. She was in earnest.
She handed me a scribbled up paper on which she had printed Matthew 5:1-12 in both English and Korean. Words like “meek” and “mourn” and “righteousness” were underlined and translated in the margins. Diligence was all over that paper in different-colored ink and in the deep crease at the middle of the page. She took out her cell phone and recorded my pronunciation while I read,
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The beatitudes aren’t really a positive thing for me. I’m not meek; I’m not merciful; I’m not pure in heart; I seek arguments rather than peace with ungodly regularity. People don’t usually insult me (to my face at least) because I insult back. Still, I couldn’t help noticing:
Jesus went up on a mountainside and taught. Now, I’m not saying I’m Jesus, but I’m on a mountain and I sat there and taught that girl how to pronounce “inherit” like a boss. But maybe that was simply (as I teach my senior composition students) the “hook” because I read those beatitudes with a lot less attitude than normal.
Be blessed, they said. Be blessed because things aren’t perfect and you aren’t either. Be blessed because there is a time for everything. Stop trying to second-guess me as I turn the world upside down and be. blessed.
The student with possibly a y and an h in her name left my office ten minutes after she’d entered. I wasn’t suddenly energized with happiness and joy and the fruit of the spirit and puppies after her visit. Nor did I find my hard drive. Even now, half a day later, a headache continues to brew behind my eyes. But I was blessed.
Perhaps it was the sign on my door - “Ask, Seek, Knock” - that drew her to me and not my dilapidated spirit, but I’m pretty sure God knew what was up. He saw me go up the mountainside that morning to “teach” and he came too and taught. He smiled at me when I came, red-faced and glowering up the stairs. He beamed. He read my door and sat in my messy office and handed me a creased paper criss-crossed with side-notes and margin translations because he spends his free time tracking down English professors to help him learn how to better pronounce the beatitudes in order to help snotty church-children memorize twelve verses his gospel of Matthew.
Be blessed, you who are poor in spirit, and be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.