It is eight o’clock on a winter’s night and I am heading to my car.
Twice a week for seven months I have made this trek through an elegant old residential neighborhood. The windows of brownstones allow glimpses of bookcases and mantle pieces and lamps. It is a neighborhood I could never afford, but this part of the city feels more familiar with each evening I walk from my German class to the nearby public garage.
It is not a time for the residents of these buildings to be outside. I have never seen them standing in their lamp-lit doorways bidding guests goodbye. Even on warm early fall evenings I have not seen neighbors, arms comfortably folded, conversing at yard's edge. The quiet of these sidewalks has belonged to me, month after month.
I walk abuzz. I may be happy to be heading home, but my brain has been stretched for an hour and a half. I have not been passively absorbing information; I have been practicing even when comfort might have preferred quiet note-taking. I have answered out loud, strained to listen, copied dictations, interviewed classmates and reported my findings.
I may have initially simply wanted to read a poet like Rilke in the original from time to time. I have ended up knowing afresh the benefits for my fifty-something-year-old brain of a regular work-out.
The academically unfamiliar has become less daunting.
The intellectually daunting has become more familiar.
A friend who has heard me talk of these walks recounts a time in his life almost twenty years ago. Fresh from evening classes at NYU, he used to run to his train, sometimes through snow, his mind floating, buoyed by the possibilities opened up by that night’s learning.
I pass a public garden at one point in my walks every week. I inevitably look up at the sculpture in one corner of that park. A spotlight hidden in the shrubs outlines the wings of a monumental angel. Another era’s symbolism for intellectual courage and spiritual confidence seems then to be watching over my trek homeward.
And maybe my trek onward.
Photo from Hooked on Houses