Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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Jim Ralston has entered old age with faith, hope, fear, and trembling — the same mingling of strengths and shortcomings he has always felt. He teaches at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in West Virginia.
The desire to hang on to youth for as long as one could — to see that as greed was new to me, and the idea had deep implications for how I saw myself.
As the class winds down, I go over the answers to the quiz: Thoreau moved into his ten-by-fifteen-foot cabin on July 4, Independence Day, 1845. He chose that day to make the point that political independence is just the beginning. We’re not completely free until we also throw off our inner masters: greed, laziness, ignorance.
The owner of the sports bar knows I sleep in the parking lot on weeknights. He doesn’t seem to mind. I’m a curiosity — the homeless professor. He thinks I must be one of a kind, but I’m not so sure. Anyway, I’m not even a professor. More like an adjunct instructor. I’d move closer to work, but I could never afford to live in Martinsburg now that it’s becoming a D.C. bedroom community.
It’s morning but still dark out. It’s also raining and cold. I’m walking out of the twenty-four-hour fitness center, on my way to the all-night Waffle House, when a woman hails me from her car. She has just run away from her husband, she says, and needs gas money to get to her mother’s.
Dying looks a lot like being born, I think standing over him, my fingers resting gently on his broad back. The contractions come in waves. Each time they are more intense, start earlier, last longer. Only now the body itself is the womb you leave behind.
The lakes of northern Michigan were mysterious to me when I was growing up. There was always at least one undeveloped side and a few swampy coves on each. I saw the trees on the lake’s edge as the border to an endless forest full of bears and big cats.
This month marks The Sun’s twenty-fifth anniversary. As the deadline for the January issue approached — and passed — we were still debating how to commemorate the occasion in print. We didn’t want to waste space on self-congratulation, but we also didn’t think we should let the moment pass unnoticed. At the eleventh hour, we came up with an idea: we would invite longtime contributors and current and former staff members to send us their thoughts, recollections, and anecdotes about The Sun. Maybe we would get enough to fill a few pages.
What we got was enough to fill the entire magazine.
Though we haven’t devoted the whole issue to the anniversary, we have allowed the section to grow beyond our original plans. After seeing the pieces, we felt that our readers would enjoy them as much as we did — for the information about the magazine’s history, for the glimpses into the writers’ lives, and (not least) for the quality of the writing.
Thoreau was not afraid to die for the same reason he was not afraid to leave Walden Pond after two years, two months, and two days. Why did he leave? He said he had several more lives to lead. To be born means to die, but Thoreau was one of those who saw also that to die means to be reborn.