Sarah And The Sunbeam

My frustration was clearly showing as I flopped down on the bench beside her. ” Margret, I mean it this time. I’m gonna quit.”, made its way out of my mouth before hello. She knew from experience with me that a rant usually followed such a greeting. She only looked up from the book she was studying, long enough to acknowledge that she was listening.

“I studied hard for that test. I spent my entire weekend getting ready for that test. When I finished, I was reasonably sure that I had made an ‘A’ on that test. I definitely didn’t think that I was going to make;……well let’s say a lot less than an ‘A’.”, I explained as the frustration built. “Sometime’s I feel like I’m giving it everything I’ve got, and only barely making the grade. It’s a lot of work, and I’m just not at all sure that it’s worth it anymore.”.

In rare form, I babbled off a laundry list of insecurities. I was ominous when I pointed out how a college degree doesn’t come with the guarantees that it once did. I was vulnerable when I reflected on how uncertain times were. I was even sobering when I reminded her that “college degrees” are standing in unemployment lines right now, just like everyone else. It wasn’t long before getting it off of my chest, began to lighten my mood. So I gave her a break and wrapped it up. “You know in every job interview, I’m going to be asked where I see myself in five years. In ten years. I have no idea how to answer that with a straight face.”.

Margret gave a slight smile out of one corner of her mouth and a little chuckle at me. Then quite matter-of-factly said, “Sarah, you’re right. School can most definitely be difficult. You’re also right that the future can be more than a little scary. I would like to be able to offer a magic wisdom that would take away all those worries, but I haven’t come across that kind of wisdom yet.

Try this. Gather yourself up a big pile of things to worry about. As many things as you can think of to worry about. Then take a moment, close your eyes, and give thanks for something. Anything you want Anyone you want. Just give thanks. When you reach the point that you know for sure you have been sincerely thankful, open your eyes. Whatever is left in the worry pile after that, is yours to worry about as much as you like. Sound fair?

As for your future;….if you have no idea who you will be in five years, or where you will be in ten, which most of us don’t, by the way. Then maybe think about the person you would like to be on your last day, and be that. Truth will tell you the rest.”.

Margret has always been good for a little common sense wisdom. She spoke proverbs that seemed embedded inside her somewhere, rather than something she may have memorized. She is one of the schools “non-traditional” students. An older woman returning to the nonstop pressures of campus life. Is she fulfilling a promise she once made to herself, or is she here not by choice, but out of necessity? I’m a little embarrassed to say that I have never asked. Whatever the reason, I was glad she was here.

It wasn’t long before the next class was to begin so Margret sneaked one last look at her textbook, and with some effort she stood and began to gather in rehearsed order, all of the things a modern-day college student is saddled with. First, her purse. Then her computer, her phone, her books, her supply bag, and a class project. She carefully distributed the weight as she went, to ensure the best chance at comfort. It all seemed burdensome and out-of-place. There had to be somewhere else that she would much rather be.

I had the time, so I thought I might get in my good deed for the day and walk with Margret to her next class. She had helped me with some of my load, and the least I could do is to help with some of hers. As I reached to take the bag from her shoulder, I offered my last gripe of the day. “Thank you Margret. As always, you have given me something I can use. I wish I could say the same about school. Honestly though, how much of this stuff we’re learning, will we ever actually use in real life?”.

As I said those words, Margret intercepted my hand and cradled it in hers. She focused on my open palm in a way that made me think she was about to tell my future. Instead, she smiled contentedly as though what she suspected might be there, was indeed in the palm of my hand. All she said was “Eight minutes.”.

“What do you mean?”, I asked.

“Eight minutes ago,…THAT….was 93 million miles away from here.”, she stated emphatically while pointing at something in my hand. “What was?”, I asked confused. I saw nothing. “The sunbeam you’re holding.”, she continued on. “Eight minutes ago, that sunbeam right there;….was 93 million miles away. It was only eight minutes ago that the sunbeam you’re holding was over 10,00 degrees Farenheit too. Now it’s cool enough to hold in the palm of your hand.”. You could tell she had a sense of playful accomplishment at having retained something from fall semester. I smiled at being surprised, and a bit charmed by it all. And she wasn’t finished.

“Have you taken this class yet?”, she asked, holding up her astronomy book.

“Nope.”, I replied.

“Well when you do, watch out. The textbook is gonna try to tell you some hogwash about the sun being made up of flaming hydrogen gasses and the like.”.

“It isn’t?”, I asked through a growing smile.

“No. It’s made of sunbeams. A big giant ball of sunbeams.”, Margret informed me as we both tried not to be the first to crack a smile. “Why there’s no telling how long that sunbeam lived up there on the sun. Racing around up there with all of it’s sunbeam friends, arguing about who is the fastest. All of them enjoying life, enjoying each other, and without a care in the solar system. But like all sunbeams, this sunbeam knew that the day would come when it would have to choose out of the whole wide universe, where it wanted to go, and what it wanted to do with its light. It’s the biggest decision that a sunbeam will ever have to make, you know? Land in the right spot;….and you make life. Something grows. You add to the story of the universe. If you miscalculated however, you may end up in a barren place. Scary stuff.”.

She was on a roll, so I didn’t interrupt. I think she was enjoying it as much as I was. She continued.

“I wonder when this sunbeam decided to spend its light on you? I wonder if it studied you, maybe formed a plan? Did it try to calculate exactly where you would be, and what you would be doing, at this very moment? Of course after forming a good plan, why all this sunbeam had left to do was to take aim at the palm of your hand some 93 million miles away. Did I mention that you are standing on a spinning blue rock, a million times smaller than the sun, and tumbling through open space at over 17,000 miles per hour? Nothing to it.

Eight minutes ago, about the time you left your last class, this little sunbeam left the security of its home, and launched itself into an ACTUAL, “vast unknown”. Not the figure of speech kind. Rate of acceleration? Zero to 186,000 miles per second innnnnn,……well, zero.

In three minutes, this sunbeam reached Mercury without any incidents. You were walking over to sit with me. Six minutes, and it was passing Venus. You were well in to your meltdown, and still had no idea whatsoever, that this sunbeam even existed. Soon it raced past the moon and came face to face with a sunbeams mortal enemy;…..clouds. Less than a minute ago the skies cleared above us, and you commented on how good it felt. This sunbeam was probably looking back on its lifetime, and wondering if it had all been worth it.

What decided it for this sunbeam? Was it complete confidence in the planning and calculations? Or was it all just luck, and happenstance? Eight minutes ago this sunbeam had done everything it could to assure that its lifetime would count for something. But it was never a promise. It could never be sure.

In the end, I like to think that the only reason this sunbeam ever left its home, was because of faith in you. It knew that even in the fog of your own troubles;……you would still offer your hand, your open hand, to help me.

This sunbeam has traveled 93 million miles in the last eight minutes;….and it was only in the last three feet of that journey;….that its faith was rewarded, and you opened your hand. Only in the last three feet, did this sunbeam know its light would count for something.”.

Margret took one last, long, look at the sun in my hand and smiled in wonder. Then she left me with this last encouragement. She said, “There’s no tellin’ what story a lifetime might tell. Can’t let a few clouds keep you from where you’re going.”.

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