LIT UP WINDOWS IN THE DARK
My Mysterious Friend once said to me that an artist is like a lit-up window in the dark. She’s an artist herself, and maybe that’s why I trust her intuition. You’ll have to decide for yourself if My Mysterious Friend is an actual person or a fictional character. No, I’m not going to make it easy for you, because I think readers should do at least a little bit of the work here, and what’s the use of reading if you don’t use your imagination. Maybe she’s just an imaginary playmate like the one you used to have when you were little, but I sincerely hope not. Anyway, it is important to look for lit-up windows in the dark but you have to stay alert because sometimes they show up in the daytime.
There are times when you feel Sauron must be winning, because the world is so full of darkness and foreboding, and it has been that way for a long time now. And of course I know I am not the ring-bearer; I’m not even Sam. Well, even so you might suddenly be struck by Sam’s thought that the “Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” You might be struck by that thought if you just happen to notice that light or that high beauty for yourself, even if it lasts only half-a-minute and it happens in a dreary car-rental office where you’re returning a rental car.
The place was completely deserted except for the young assistant manager who gave me her business card, but we’ll want to respect her privacy here so I’m not going to tell you what her name is. The assistant manager in question was a young and very pretty African American woman – she still had braces on her teeth. She was courteous, self-possessed and highly professional.
She took the keys, went out to the car to check the mileage and the gas gauge and when she got back to the desk there was some music playing in the background. I would describe the song I was hearing as an easy-going romantic ballad, mo-town or soul or anyway something along those lines. I would love to tell you the name of the song, but unfortunately I do not have the necessary background knowledge to provide you with this information. She asked me how I liked the car, which was perfectly ok actually, a Volkswagen Jetta it was with a pretty good kick on the freeway if you wanted to pass an eighteen wheeler, even if it did have an automatic transmission.
In the U.S. you cannot get a car with a standard transmission in a car rental agency. Well, wait, maybe you can if you make arrangements in advance but actually I’ve never heard of any such of a thing. In France you cannot get a car with an automatic transmission or at least that was true the last time I rented any class of an automobile in France or in Austria or even in Spain. Although this particular fact was unknown to me when I rented that little car during our first visit to France when our kids were still teen-agers, this is how I learned to drive a standard shift, which involved driving a four-speed Peugot all the way across Paris at rush hour trying to get the hang of using a clutch, but that’s another story.
It’s a good one too, and yes we did make it to Chartres, but I don’t have time for that right now, so let’s stay on topic here because the point of this story is what happened when the assistant manager with braces was busy closing out the rental agreement, a task that requires close attention to the document on her computer screen. While she was typing out the information I noticed that she was singing along with the music or at least moving her lips in unison with the song, which is something she clearly knew by heart.
I really couldn’t make out the words, partly because I was not paying careful attention to the words, I was paying attention to her performance. She was dancing or swaying her upper body in rhythm with the singer as if nobody else was there, completely ignoring me as I stood about two feet way. This was a beautiful thing to see, and I did not want to break the spell. So of course I made myself be “nobody else is here,” hardly daring to breathe until she finished her work and turned to print out the receipt, at which point the dancing was over. The whole thing could not have lasted a full minute. Well then there was the question about my copy of the original contract which we agreed it would be ok for her to shred it.
I thanked her and said good-bye. I did not tell her it was a privilege to watch such a beautiful and beautifully un-self-conscious performance but it definitely was. You can’t hold on to something so beautiful; it isn’t yours to possess. Silent acknowledgment is the condition of grace. So no, I’m not even Sam – I can’t trudge through the desolation to reach Mount Doom and face the Gollum. Maybe I could carry the ring when Frodo is too weak to carry it himself, assuming there really is a ring and it was all that simple. But I can bear witness to a tiny moment of grace and high beauty if I happen to see one. I’ll be sure to let you know if something like this ever happens again.