. . . ask, “What is it?”

I didn’t read all of it, because I didn’t want them to grow bored, and some were whispering. Still, in the front row, one student mouthed the words to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and so it was hard to stop reading, at the minute in which “there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

At an earlier minute today, I spied a huge book baking atop a car in my school parking lot.  The unlikeliness of it: a book left alone there, and so large a book that it would have seemed difficult to forget. I immediately began spinning a story of a cell phone ringing, a student late for class, or a friend unexpectedly appearing in the parking lot. But I wanted to know the book’s name, and so I walked closer, and found it to be a Bible commentary. And then I realized I’d seen it — or its twin — elsewhere, on a library desk where a friend of mine sat.

Perhaps it’s that I read Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes stories years ago; perhaps it’s that recently I’ve watched many episodes of Campion, Miss Marple, Poirot. But I found myself immediately playing detective.

My first step: was there a name inside the book? There was not. (More shame to the possessor.  I believe in claiming my books.)

My second step: were there any clues about the car? More success here. Nothing I could see about the car seemed antithetical to the character of my friend behind the library desk. It was a practical car, neither frivolous nor demonstrative. Beyond that, the political bumper sticker displayed on the vehicle was precisely what I would expect from said friend.

Excellent then.  The book’s plight had won my sympathies, and I wished the car were unlocked so I could set the book in shelter.  That being impossible, I took the next best step: I left the book to its own devices and went to find my friend at the one place where I knew he might be — though I doubted to find him there today — behind the library desk.  And there he was.

An inquiry revealed that my train of detection had been flawless. I set off to resume my ordinary career, and my friend dispatched himself to rescue his book from its languishing.

There will be time,” yes, “for all the works and days of hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate.” And having seen the question fall — or, more precisely, seen it lying there atop the car — the visions and revisions came thick upon one another’s heels, so that, for ten minutes on a Thursday morning, I was sleuth rather than teacher. There were those few other minutes, later, when I was J. Alfred Prufrock, wondering if I dared and if I dared. (And also the women coming and going, “talking of Michelangelo.”)

And in light of all of it, the advice which a woman gave me only a number of minutes ago — to be open to anything, because you never know where you’ll end up — rings truer, maybe, than it would have this morning.

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