Finding the Way Around Campus - After 25 Years

LOST again. I expected to exit onto a concrete walk, go down some stairs, and put dimes in the parking meter. I had brought quarters, but they were not accepted, so I went into the student center for change. I had allowed myself plenty of time when I left the ranch we take care of and drove down the mountain as the sun rose and spread orange and red light across the partially cloudy eastern sky.

Instead of the concrete walkway I expected, I exited onto a tiled patio area. If I could see the Rocky Mountains, I would know which way was west, but buildings blocked my view in all directions. I remembered a joke. ``Do you know why the Israelites were lost for 40 years in the desert?'' ``Why?'' ``The leaders were men. They wouldn't stop and ask for directions.''

That does seem to be a characteristic primarily of men in our culture. It was time to work my way out of that one. I asked a young woman, ``Which way is north?'' She pointed, and I said, ``Thank you,'' and walked straight through the building north of us. I was making interesting discoveries about myself. I would approach a woman to ask directions or to ask if she could change quarters to dimes and nickels more readily than I would approach a man. This may be because our household is three-fourths women, my wife and two daughters.

The meter ate my dimes with an automatic click and whir, and the needle indicated two hours. I walked east. I thought I knew where I was, but I wanted to be sure, so I stopped a man lost in thought and asked him, ``Is that Laurel Street over there where the cars are moving?'' He smiled a broad, warm smile and said, ``Yes, it is.'' ``Thank you,'' I said. Implied was a thank you for that smile. It evaporated the edge of tension I felt in unfamiliar surroundings on my second day of classes.

On the mountain, I am never lost. The wild ridge of granite, south of me as I walk, is a reference point, as is the canyon north. I remember configurations of the land and the way the forest gives way to meadows. Down here on campus, everything is almost flat. It takes me a while to pick out any sense of order in the way buildings and open spaces are arranged and to begin to recognize individual buildings.

I walked out of class 25 years ago, 1,000 miles from here, a little over halfway to a degree. I kept walking until I was on a mountain, with everything around me all natural and green and busy with living. Somewhere on a mountain has been where I've centered most of my time since then.

I've had some teaching experiences lately. I'm tutoring individuals in writing. I also talked about freelance writing to a university journalism class; I discussed nurturing the human spirit with three other writers, a moderator, and about 100 honors students at the Colorado School of Mines. These experiences helped ignite a fire in my head, fueled by the desire to teach and to continue asking the questions we talked about: How does literature, all of art, nurture the human spirit? What is art in the human experience? Are we, as writers, obligated to adhere to moral standards as we write, and if so, what are those moral standards? If you have something within you - wild for release to your fellow humans - can I help you learn to write it as you mean to write it?

Our home schooling is nearly finished. Juniper, our older daughter, has started college in Illinois. Amanda, our younger daughter, enrolled in public high school for her senior year.

I enjoy the half-time job I have, taking care of a Girl Scout ranch. I am writing two novels and several shorter pieces, but I took steps to honor this fire in my head, this calling that keeps getting stronger. To qualify as a teacher within the academic world, I need to complete the degree I abandoned so long ago and then earn an advanced degree.

Getting lost on campus again and again is part of becoming a qualified teacher. It gives me moments full of meaning to appreciate and contributes to the broadening of my education. I learn reference points, that oddly shaped building and the oval drive instead of a granite ridge and a trail worn by the passage of wild animals. I learn that people are much warmer, more ready to help than I thought they would be.

I stood somewhere inside the student center, wondering why my feet remember animals' trails but have no idea how many flights of stairs or left turns they have carried me through. A young woman asks, ``Are you lost?''

``Yes, I am. I'm looking for Student Services, in the ballroom area, someone said.''

``That's where I'm going,'' she replied. ``Come along, and I'll show you.''

Most of the students are about the age I was when I walked off campus 25 years ago. For a little while, I felt out of place among these young students. Then the people around me showed me that this is a community, and we are all working together to achieve myriad individual and community goals. The classes I take work toward my goal of becoming a teacher and the community goal of having effective teachers, on fire with enthusiasm for the process of teaching and learning.

Now that I'm driving down the mountain three days a week, friends who live down there have asked me to help their sons learn about writing, literature, and math.

Will that fit into my schedule? I think it will. My schedule takes on the shape of learning and teaching and loses the shape of hours and minutes. Everything relevant fits.

I don't understand large areas of the campus yet. I'm looking forward to more times of being lost and being found, when what is strange to me, without reference points, becomes sensible and familiar, as faces around me light up with friendship at the opportunity to teach me something useful. ``See that building? If you walk past it and turn right....''

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