KALAMAZOO—Sometimes you slip unexpectedly into such an experience of beauty and grace that you are overwhelmed, and for a few glorious hours you are oblivious to the coarseness of our culture and the harshness of the world we live in.
I am immersed in such an interlude as I write this in an ice arena at Western Michigan University, watching my granddaughter Elena compete in intercollegiate figure skating competition. To watch these young women drift so effortlessly across the shiny surface is to indeed to see poetry in motion. In a few months or years they will leave their insulated college campuses and disappear into the mainstream of American life. May they live their whole lives with the grace they have shown on the ice today.
They seem so young. Elena has just turned 18 and is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Her teammates—some of them UW juniors and seniors—likewise seem so young to me. If I had stumbled on this competition without knowing better, I would have identified the skaters as high schoolers. Of course that is my age (and maybe my eyesight) speaking. Soon these young women will be our scientists, doctors, educators, engineers, and lawyers.
Perhaps I am just catching my breath after another dip into the so-called “real world.” I’ve been swimming in the pains and travails of humankind almost all this week. When I return to the bench, as I did for three days, I enter a world where for the most part there is no poetry or grace or beauty. The underbelly of society shows itself in our courtrooms each day in the criminal cases, in the divorces, in the personal protection disputes, and even among the civil law attorneys in their thousand-dollar suits.
If you want to learn about Original Sin, just spend a few hours in a courtroom on motion day. One case I heard involved two young women in their 20s who had switched boyfriends and now hated each other. Their Facebook insults would have made my drill sergeant blush. I told them to go home and take a shower.
So it is that I watch spellbound as these skaters do their double axels and other amazing maneuvers in a cold arena on a Saturday morning, and I am warmed by thought that there is still grace and beauty in our world. These young women are proving that to me today. They are the real America. The Really Real.
Oh, I just got word that Elena took first place in the senior solo dance competition. I thought I should mention that. I wouldn’t be a true granddad if I didn’t.