After teaching for a great many years, I have switched seats and am back to being a student. This has, unsurprisingly, brought some anticipated shifts. Holding the scope of the term in the imaginative space of a teacher starkly departs when becoming a student. I am no longer standing on the hill, surveying the perspective. I am walking up the hill, with only the slender view of the beaten path before me.
Yes, I consider this while on the actual climb up the hill to the Faculty of Education; an arduous climb in September, only slightly less so in October. The climb has become a study in how quickly I can lose my breath. (It’s just up here, I said to my daughter in late summer, dragging her to see the building. Literally ‘higher education’, I laughed. No, mom, she replied coolly. You got the cheap seats, the nosebleeds.)
Yet, I usually work from home, despite having its own drawbacks. The quilted quiet. The altogether-in-my-head.
So, I remember to break. Not in a Leonard Cohen ‘that’s how the light gets in’ way. Not in a Japanese Kintsukuroi way. But in the whistle-on-the-midday-hour-get-your-sandwiches-from-their-greasy-papers-and-your-lukewarm-thermos-coffee way. A forced moment in time to feel the sun on your face and the wind at your back.
Grab a jacket. It suddenly got cold.
The bustling street is startling after the muted hues of CBC Radio.
I descend into the hot throat of the metro. Ah, this place. Where the air hangs like a damp sheet in a dewy evening, rustling ever so slightly over the screech of the brakes of incoming trains. Where people keep their elbows in and mumble excusez-pardon-excusez while the rest of us keep our necks bent over the glow of a phone or the curled page of book. The chimes that signal the closing doors that will dash the hope of any commuter still hustling down the stairs.
This place that jerks and defies, twisting here, letting the ground fall away there. The melodic voice on the speaker (Prochain Station: McGill) is a constant reminder that you are on the right track. The tremendous squeeze during the busier hours when people crush their neighbours, brows defiantly proclaiming: They. Will. Get. On. The place that coughs you out of its musty throat into the knock-you-sideways howling breath between the street doors and, suddenly, with a wild push, you’re back in the city.
I love every bit of it. Desperately.
Today, I’ve exited at Station Peel. Putting on the brakes will, I hope, force some light in. Or treat with gold seams. Naturally, then, I’m off to the Musée des Beaux Arts for some quiet contemplation. Within those walls, there is gold breath enough.
Today, though, at the gallery, some fifty or more high school students are running up and down the stairs, laughing loudly, pointing at the fleshy, exposed bodies of oils and marble, bumping into patrons, calling friends over to huddle for photos, their loose, crooked limbs and seemingly too-large sneakers threatening to knock over a thing or two.
So much for quiet contemplation. But I don’t turn on my heel. I watch. Rather, I see.
This is the breath and the light and the golden thread.
Not in what I had expected: The stiff shoulders and stare-down-a-nose over colourful spectacles, flowing aubergine-bleeding-turquoise silk scarf. The phlegmy cough over the rough humhum of pacing corduroy and the declarative tug at the slightly unkempt hair. The shush-shush of the doors and sliding feet.
Not those things. This. This. Stomping, chuckling, grinning, arms outstretched, hurrying around corners and leaping over stairs, rushing to a window with hands splayed on the glass to drink in the view, sitting on the floor in a darkened room to see underneath the feet of a cowering god, challenging others to look look!
Perhaps you don’t need reminding to break. To break for the unexpected glimpses. For the chance to revisit your expectations. But if you do, now is the time. Before the wind’s cruel taunts hollow out our ears, so cold it becomes an aching burn, all the way up the hill to the cheap seats. Where the view is a study in the ever-fluid, expectation-defying, world of living art.