WRITING WELL 4 - on time

by Susan Weber

Squad cars diverted all traffic from the highway so I sped down the first exit ramp to get my bearings. It would have been vastly more helpful to have had my phone in the mapless car, but it seemed I’d left it home. I could spare but a minimum of panic since three-year-olds expected me in their school within the half hour. I pulled into Steelyard Commons to seek assistance. MattressFIRM, Jimmy John’s, Penn Station East Coast Subs weren't open yet. A slender man in a gray hoodie slouched toward Walmart as I leaned across my puppets to explain that with the highway mysteriously closed, I needed to get across town on streets. He sent me up the hill to veer right, then left between a gas station and a brick school, right on Scranton, left on Lorain until I got to Warren.

The roads along the Cuyahoga twist around the river in pot-holed splendor, narrowing through orange barrels, fenced-in factories, and the riveted supports of elaborate bridges. I set aside my awe ― I'd somehow missed my turn at Lorain. I could imagine the teachers calling my workplace, my next of kin, the missing persons unit. A man with a small leashed dog appeared from a warehouse and directed me over the river with his insider knowledge. On the other side, my good luck fizzled. All week I’d scavenged time from around the edges of a dense teaching schedule in order to read and write. Now I sat on Detroit Avenue behind a driver who, if nonchalance were rocket fuel, would hurtle to the moon slow-motion. I thought of squandered time and disappointed students, my shoulders hunched, a headache pressing in.

Hemingway would have annoyingly reminded me, when I pulled up to the school, that there is nothing else than now. As a grown-up, I understand the concept. Past is memory; the future is guesswork. But three-year-olds seem to really get the present. In glitter barrettes and Batman shoes they rimmed the small carpeted space where I opened my guitar case. The gloom of lateness left me as we spun into their bright new now.

Afterwards I called my employer from the school office. The secretary told me an officer was killed on the highway that morning. We looked at each other a minute. Both of us are older than the man who died. I think we didn’t know if we deserved the future we were always rushing off to. Writing this, reaching for the next few words, it comes to me that I do know how to enter the unfolding present. A well-oiled pen stands in the maelstrom of lost past gushing into future, elongating the time between them. Writing gives a glimpse of what we might miss when we get so smart and carried away with purpose.

The primacy of now is the best reason I know to carve out time for writing, though it’s never easy. As Eeyore said to Pooh Bear on a day that did, or didn’t, happen: “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”

Public Domain photo by Jet Lowe