Friday, December 9, 2011


The Matron should be attending to the nearly seven thousand pieces of student work for which she is responsible. Certainly, now would be the time for a deft discussion of the perils of the community college educator: meaning lots of students and therefore, lots of student work. Of course, most of this work is already recorded and, in honesty, thanks to online teaching technology, a portion of it automated. But she likes saying "nearly seven thousand."

Yet she feels oddly calm, even in the thick of those final papers.

Remember the name of this blog? Minnesota Matron.

The season of bright lights, eggnog and cheer (feigned and real) falls in the thick of winter night. It's the worst kind of winter. Snow has yet to fully descend; when she does, there are sweeping buckets of lace and ice that sparkles by day and shimmers, a ghost, at night. Snow softens the landscape but December is largely, simply: night.

This year, the Matron has donned the season. Three weeks ago, she returned to the Buddhist sangha she frequented a few years back for their noon meditation: four days a week. She has been sitting on a pillow, lost, for thirty minutes, seven days a week -- four of those among like-minded people. Consistent meditation rewires the brain; that's not snappy prose but scientific fact.

Her particular cellular tune-up means that she can no longer sweat the small stuff. Her work ethic is slow and steady instead of frenetic. She's sitting with the children and talking on the phone more often. Wondering, really, how you're doing when she's asked. The smallest encounter can send memories one, two, three decades past into her immediate present. Not in a bad way, just a picture she looks into and says: that is who I am. Not all of this is pretty.

The rewired brain is not melancholy - -not at all. It simply sees truth beyond the clock and the checkbook, beyond the accomplishments one can whip out at cocktail parties. Maybe this is a function of biology, of facing the impending next decade. Maybe it's something else.

And every day as she heads to the Zen center for meditation or drives to a school or rushes out to get kale at the co-op or take the doggies to the dog park, she drives past her neighbor's house.
Inside, her friend is facing death -- not as the Matron has been in a 'one day please not too soon' sort of fashion, but in illness driven, crisis reality: death is coming for me. It is on its way.

Driven by love, all the Matron can do is watch. And realize that this, waiting, is actually the full extent of human power over death.

The blue light of Christmas, brittle night and black sky -- sitting on that pillow, lost, every day -- a child actively preparing to embark upon a life separate from hers -- the insipid television and rush for money -- everything is sharper.

Finally, she is looking at people and understanding what it means to say "this is what really matters."