Toward the Next of Things

I had a dream last night that I went to the high school I used to teach in and no one saw me.

It was as if I had never been there - none of the teachers acknowledged my presence and I would get fleeting glances from students who were on their way to the next class. I was not needed.

A place where, just months ago, I was a part of a family suddenly became a place far away - as far as the looks in the eyes of my students.

Sometimes I get caught up worrying that my dream isn't too far from the truth.

A couple of months ago I sat in a gravel outdoor seating area with some co-workers from my new job. It was 9:30 at night and still over 90 degrees. They're all older than I am and were swapping travel stories. One couple had lived over in Saudi Arabia for years and another had seen molten lava run down the side of an island just feet from where they were. The husband said the bubbles of magma can get to be twelve feet tall and sometimes will dry that way.

The music of the Police filled space the ubiquitous heat couldn't stretch into. From the stage, our summer intern chugged away on a bass line - living the dream of a student who'll go back to his sophomore year in college soon. The only thing that matters to him is the music and the dollars in the tip basket on the front of the stage.

And I almost said that I used to play bass in a band. I almost thought of a story I could offer up to the conversation about South Dakota and the 6 foot snow drifts against my house and the people I lived with and the community that took me in.

But I didn't

Some days it's like it never even happened - like in my dream, sometimes I feel like I was never there. Two whole years made up of long days are now lost to a chamber of memory I might stumble into again - in some honeycomb of my brain.

I don't know if there was any great arc to the short summers and long winter months that I lived in a blue house in Mission, South Dakota. I don't know if there was a "key take away" as some have asked me to summarize it. It was simply two years of living and breathing as a part of this organism located in, quite literally, the most landlocked area of the North American continent.

I have no words for those two years that almost never happened. How do you describe an echo inside of you to someone who can't hear it?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not assuming that I'm now different and two years on the prairie activated a new lobe of my brain that no one else uses. I'm not special or unique because I left Texas.

What I am saying is that, all of a sudden, this life that consumed me - these people who became my family - it's gone. I could meet someone new today and they'd never even have a clue where I just came from and what I just finished doing.

I wrote a poem about my students two winters ago and there's a line in it that says: They'll just press forward with their chins down, toward the next of things.

It's what we all do. It's what we have to do. We have this bag of experiences and this web of relationships we add to - and that makes us richer. But we can't carry all of those memories around at the same time and we can't explain all of those experiences to everyone.

And so it seems like we just have to keep moving forward toward the next of things. There's absolutely no way to predict the future and there's absolutely no use dredging up the past. We just let the past stay where it is, bone deep and now a part of us.

So, I sat on that wooden bench and drank my wine and listened to my new friends talk about the richness of life and experiences. "Take it Easy" by The Eagles was the last song played on the stage. I thought, my band used to play that song, as I walked to my car to drive home.

In the hill country of Texas, the stars press hard against the night sky - like they're coming from behind it and the harder they press, the greater their diameter. I see faintly the icy crevice that is the Milky Way and I think of South Dakota.