Today promises to be a busy day; this week, a busy week. My current crop of online classes is ending this week with a new set starting up next week: that means lots of grading and online course prep between now and Monday. At Keene State, I’m teaching a total of three writing classes this semester–two freshman composition classes and one intermediate expository writing class–and last week all of them had major essay drafts due. That means I’m meeting with all of my writing students individually this week to discuss their paper drafts face-to-face: all three classes’s worth. Usually I stagger my conferences so I meet with freshmen one week and intermediate students another, but this week I’m conferencing with all of them, 15-minutes per student. It’s less time-consuming, actually, than reading and commenting on drafts “by hand,” and it allows me to give more individualized attention. But it also means I’ll be spending much of this week in one of the Student Center lounges rather than in an office I share with a handful of other instructors.

The room where I’ve been conferencing with students is officially called the Lantern Room, but students call it the Fishbowl, and I call it the Flag Room. It’s a glass-walled room on the first floor of the Student Center, and it has flags from around the world hanging from its rafters. I recently learned that the flags in the Lantern Room aren’t randomly selected; instead, they represent the various countries from which Keene State students come from. From semester to semester, then, the flags change as students come and go: this semester, it seems, we have at least one student from Ireland and other from Israel, but we have none from Italy or Korea. It’s somehow heartwarming knowing that the flags in the Lantern Room are there for a reason, that they represent the homes and dearly missed loved ones of actual individual students. Looking at the flags in the Lantern Room, I see colorfully tangible reminders of the hopes and dreams of Keene State students, some of whom have traveled from afar to pursue their education. I wonder if or how often homesick international students wander into the Lantern Room to seek out the flag from their homeland: there, hanging from sun-drenched rafters, is a reminder of where I come from, a reminder of why I’m here.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s divorce hearing, I’ve been thinking a lot about solitude and presence, and about the ways we remind or assure ourselves that we are not alone. Yesterday’s hearing went as well as I could have wished: it happened. Words were said, papers were signed, and both Chris and I will get some sort of official documentation–something we can each touch–sometime soon in the mail. After the hearing and throughout the day as I kept busy with teaching tasks, I felt mostly relief that the hearing was done and that everything was official. Climbing the stairs to my office at school after the hearing, I realized the hand opening the door to Parker Hall wasn’t the hand that had opened it the day before: that was Doctor Schaub, and this is Doctor DiSabato. Somehow for the first time since I defended my dissertation in April and graduated with my doctorate in May, the title felt like it fit. “Doctor D: that’s me!”

Late in the afternoon after I’d finished conferencing with Tuesday’s batch of writing students, I took the dog to the Ashuelot River Park, one of “our” favorite walking places. As Reg ran and sniffed and splashed in the river off-leash, I walked underneath a forest canopy no less lovely than any of those Lantern Room flags. I felt good. The sun was slanting toward the horizon of a crystal blue sky; the crunch of fallen leaves felt reassuring underfoot. And as I walked, I felt a sensation that has arisen unbidden at various points over the past several months, ever since Chris and I crossed the emotional Rubicon toward divorce: gratitude. Although a huge part of me feels guilty to say my overwhelming emotion in light of the divorce is relief, it’s true. These days, my life feels like it’s finally on a path headed in the right direction. It pains me to no end to know that my choosing that path has resulted in heartache for other people: my own heartache I can deal with, but the thought of hurting others is far more difficult. But at random points over the past days and weeks, I’ve felt an upwelling of something akin to joy: a realization that life is indeed good, very, very good. I have my health, I have my friends, I have a job, apartment, and dog that I love…and I have the whole expansive Earth for companionship.

As I was walking along the Ashuelot River with the dog yesterday, you see, I had one of those Moments. It’s an indescribable sort of experience, actually: as soon as you try to articulate it, you fall into the realm of cliche and over-dramatic emotionalism. I refuse to use the term Religious Experience, and the word Mystical is even worse: both words have accrued such negative baggage, and most folks (rightly) assume that the people who use such terminology must fancy themselves as Holy, High-and-Mighty souls. Believe me, I ain’t no saint, and I ain’t at all holy…but sometimes I experience these Moments that carry echoes of Moments experienced by the saints and holy folk of history. In her autobiography, writer Mary Austin explained that when she was five, “God happened to Mary under the apple tree.” I don’t know what that means exactly, and I’d never claim Mary Austin as a particular Saintly or Holy person. But sometimes, when I think I’m alone, I sense that I’m not, that Someone Else is under the apple tree.

I don’t know who or what this Someone Else is: they typically leave no calling card. But as I walked the dog by the Ashuelot River yesterday, I realized that the Earth herself has never left me: the Earth herself has remained faithful and true all these years, and she never judges. The Earth herself doesn’t care if I’m married or divorced; the Earth herself doesn’t care if my life is together or in shambles. I’ve always believed (I continue to believe) that there is a God in heaven who loves all creation unconditionally…but that God in heaven is difficult to taste or touch. The Earth herself, though, is immediately underfoot, and yesterday I could feel the sensation of great fertile power welling up from the ground beneath me. God’s indeed in his heaven, and all’s right with the world…and sometimes we need reminders, like colorful, sun-drenched flags hung from the rafters of trees, to turn our homesick eyes toward the Presence that never passes.