Outside Chapel

The weather app says 7 degree when I wake up. Windchill -15. But it’s 7:17am, Thursday morning almost March, and outside, the city skyline I’ve come to call my own shines with the brilliant white light of a strong sun in frigid temperatures.

There are tunnels at this school, tracing the outline of the Plaza; underground tiled, concrete pathways connecting dorms, dining room, offices, classrooms. 8:30am class, we’re done at 9:50, trickling out of the fourth floor room, slowly joining the stream of students making their way to chapel.

Bookbags on shoulders, IDs on lanyards swinging around necks, in our hands, three of us wish professor goodbye, step down the stairs together. But they’re braving the cold; we part ways at the ground floor. I pull open the door that leads down further, into the tunnels, as they push through the front door, the icy wind blasting past them, fighting to get inside even as they fight to get out.

I step down the stairs, leaving the cold air behind me, slowly swallowed by the heat of the building, the tunnels. Downstairs, it’s a left, right, left, to the stairs that take me back up, to the chapel, and in these moments before 10am, movement on campus is synchronized. Passing the long windows that line that cozy, chaotic, underground dining room, the hallways around me begin to echo with the sounds of shoes on tile, voices bouncing off white-painted walls.

Turning the last corner, the stairwell up is narrow and steep, and I wait a moment, hold the door for the pair behind me. We step up, single file, legs reaching two steps long sometimes, gripping the cold metal banister. Pushing through the door at the top of the stairs, a guy in front of me suddenly stops, his keys, clipped to his bookbag, have snagged on the doorknob, yanking him back, and temporarily halting our line. He bends, works to unhook himself. Behind him, around him, students step through the door, meld seamlessly into the flow of people moving down the wide wall, into the chapel.

I step around him just as he frees himself from the door, and we’re all moving forward, one body, many, many parts, towards the yellow wooden doors that lead into the chapel. But they’re small doors- inconvenient, maybe- and our progress stutters to a halt under the sign that read Torrey-Gray Auditorium. We’re almost there, yet not quite in.

I’m standing, waiting, thinking about everything and yet nothing of consequence, when I feel a tugging on my bookbag, then hear a zipper. It flashes through my mind that someone is opening my bookbag, but there’s nothing to steal, other than a notebook, a highlighter I got for free and four pens, and besides: this is Moody. Rather, I realize that my bookbag was probably not completely zipped, and that someone in this standing throng of the people I live and study with has zipped it for me.

Thank you, I say to no one in particular, smiling at the space in front of me. After a moment, though, I’m curious, and to keep my back turned feels rude, in a way. But turning, the face behind me is blank, eyebrows slightly raised at my sudden movement. I’m about to turn back around, take another slow step towards that narrow chapel door, when there movement to my right and I know who’s zipped my bookbag. Smile, shake hands, names exchanged, a pause. Then, as suddenly as we stopped, the hallway begins to move, almost as one, and I’m through the door, taking the balcony steps two at a time, on my way to those red flip-down seats.

But not before Thank You again, and Have a good day, Nice to meet you. Because this place has taught me many things- doctrine and theology and teaching methods and how to write a paper and how to read with music going while sending an email and holding a conversation. But it has also taught me about kindness and gentleness and having a smile in your eyes and a laugh more ready than an argument, and zipping someone’s bookbag in the crowded, busy moment outside chapel.

~Natalia

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