“January 24: Early Errands,” by Judith Hougen

Soon, Marginalia will begin featuring the work of Northwestern students (both current and alums), but we thought we’d kick things off with a contribution from our very own Judy Hougen. Says Professor Hougen about her piece:

I’m fascinated to discover the layers of meaning that lie quietly beneath seemingly ordinary moments of life.  Currently, I’m working on a series of literary-quality essays on faith and the writing life that I hope to publish in a single volume some day.  As part of this collection, I envision some short, in-the-moment prose pieces that contain strong attention to detail.  This is one of those pieces.

January 24: Early Errands

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver—

It’s eight below this morning as I drive down Highway 36, bone-gray asphalt wearied by salt and destinations, thick, sky-blue gloves perch on the wheel, my breath an easy haze in the chilled compartment.  After a week of fever, everything amazes a threadbare mind. Illness has a way of shaming us into submission to the body, into being and stillness, our breathing serrated like old regrets and too many days brimming with uselessness while manila folders scatter on the dining table heavy with words.  A few minutes later, I see it to my right: transfiguration: the sun swelling past itself, haloed and huge in the crystallized dawn just above bare-knuckle trees and condos. Common vernacular: a sundog.  I know a little science, the deep cold translating air into a prism, refracted slices of ice choreographed into color, light begetting light, resonating sky.  I glance sideways as the highway allows, cough, eyes back to the tired ribbon of road.  But I know this is the glorious ornament of winter, the eastern horizon white, luminous in my peripheral vision, open hands of light laid against my car like a priest’s.  I awaken a little more and picture myself as the supplicant of small consolations, and I think of Mary Oliver kneeling in a summer field at the edge of a grasshopper, his every machination absorbed into a prayer, a question.  In her own words, idle and blessed.  The old Toyota’s heat starts to kick in, and I loosen my scarf, my body relaxing with the lean margin of warmth.  The sundog still overwhelms the sky as I drive this morning past strip malls and snow-loaded ditches to places I already call inconsequential.  And I remember her poetic question, wondering what it means to receive so much gratuitous light into our undeserving bodies, our frailty of attention.  This is what I know: after thick nights of virus loaded with sleep and soup and television, I’m given—what?—a spaceship of light, the day alive in my passenger seat, and these two hands as a sign, a kind of possibility.


3 responses to ““January 24: Early Errands,” by Judith Hougen

  1. Jackie Lea Sommers

    Love it, Judy!! Beautiful!

  2. I enjoyed this piece Hougen!

  3. Brianna Flavin

    I like this even more than before.

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