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Twelve pens in a plastic package: plum, navy, brown, lime, turquoise, pink, orange, purple, green, red, blue, black. They sit nestled together, waiting to bring the pages of my journal to life. I feel the thrill of potential, that siren call to make something beautiful out of words. I will no longer stay in the comfortable realm of elegant black ink; I venture out as an explorer, ready to discover new landscapes and try new cuisine. I consider all the unwritten words, unsaid things, untold stories. My pens and I are ready.

I sat under the shadow of an overhanging tree, letting my thoughts freely flow with the sound of the running water in the fountain. Catechism in hand, I pondered the question: “How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?”

Suddenly upon the rock of the basin alighted two sparrows. The female threw inquisitive glances at me as she leaned forward to dip in her beak. The male perched slightly behind, vigilant in his guard of his mate. I sat statuesque so they knew I meant no harm despite my stare. Satiated, the female burst into flight with several swift movements of her wings, closely pursued by her partner.

I smiled and returned to my reading. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

“It’s so cute!” I exclaimed. “Spin!”

My roommate turned on the spot in a shirt she just pulled from my closet. I had brought it back from home with the express purpose of making her try it on. I’m not the type of girl to squeal over clothes, but in this case, it wasn’t the shirt that made me happy. It was standing in the room where I spent four months last year with the wonderful girl in front of me.

Over a year and a half ago, I was standing in that same shirt, playing bizzare ice-breakers and trying to remember that girl’s name. Her Irish curls were the biggest help. They are longer now, reaching down to her shoulder blades. I have seen her grow into a beautiful woman, a shining daughter of God, loving and talented.

We have spent countless hours together in discussions about anything from romance to government, and we have been there to witness each other’s struggles and triumphs. Our affinity for tea, books, and quiet times of study brought us together, and I love nothing more than being in the room with her. Whether we are talking about books, complaining about homework, laughing at Facebook, or just sitting in silence, I am happy with her in the room. The thought of four more months with her is a treasure. I thank God for my roommate.

Soft, slanted, warm, touching everything with white gold, the sun turns the afternoon into a fairytale. I walk through a forest that seems drawn straight from a fantasy. I sit staring past my desk to the window in the time of quiet and books and half-drunk tea. I tread on the shadows stretched out long and luxurious across the pavement. I lie on a blanket in a park filled with friends and laughter and the smell of grass. The afternoon light weaves these stories together, strands in a tapestry of mornings and midmornings and noons and afternoons and evenings and nights and unearthly hours – my life. In the afternoon light I stop to notice the passing of the time, and I remember that I am living.

It starts with a piano, that magical collection of notes ready-waiting in the forest of black and white. Her slender fingers stroke the keys, thoughtful, choosing carefully before tickling the sounds out of the wood and into the air. The hammers hit our heartstrings, and we are struck dumb. Words are not needed.

Only when the music fades do we speak, first with the noise of our hands, and then with praises. Radiant and bashful, she curls up on the couch to hear the next player. From her we hear the masters, reaching out to us from the past through the notes that reverberate through time. Her performance is precise, and under its orderly tones we are lulled into peace.

Though we wish her never to stop, she returns to the couch in time. Us three sit close together, our hearts singing simultaneously our own sentiments, like a chord. One more player takes up the bench and adds her voice to that of the piano. After several more songs, our second player is called back to accompany. She plays, and a young man joins the young woman in a duet. They stumble through it, but their laughter is as beautiful as their singing.

The music brings us together. We are not the same, but we are not so different either. Like notes, we each lend our unique presence. Combined, we create harmony.

My room at college is situated at the farthest end of the hall, at the farthest end of campus. Out of my window there is a grassy hill with a line of tall, slender eucalyptus trees that shade the rooms on the back side of the dorm. The grass turns into a steep slope of ivy and bougainvillea that climbs up to the backyard fences of the adjacent neighborhood.

Often, while working on something, I will look up and see cats creeping along the top of the hill. During the day, with the window open, the sounds of rustling leaves, singing birds, and the call of distant trains float into the room along with the breeze, and it feels like the outside has come inside.

Though there’s nothing much to look at, I love my window. It reminds me that there is a world outside of my to-do list. I will always be grateful to live in a room with a view.

Reading great books is like running. (This alone is ironic, since it’s reading great books that so often keeps me from running.)

There are several stages. First: The Warm-up. For runners, this means checking your shoes, hydrating, stretching, setting up a playlist. For readers, this is where we get comfortable, grab a drink and snacks, meticulously arrange everything to avoid opening the book for as long as possible, then take a deep breath.

Next stage: The First Wind. This is the first period of the run where everything feels right. You breath deeply, take in the sights, and enjoy it all. This is when the readers are eager, minds open to the possibilities, looking carefully for the subtleties of the text.

Third stage: The Grind. You’ve been running for a while now (if you’re me, about 5 minutes). Your muscles ache, your lungs are dry, and you can’t seem to move forward easily anymore. You just want to walk. As a reader, your eyes can’t seem to focus, you’re reading the same parts over and over again you’re reading the same parts over and over again, and they’re not making any more sense. You just want to stop.

Fourth stage: The Second Wind. Once you push through the grind, you’ll soon be running strong again. You are determined; the thought of how healthy this is for you keeps you going. You’re reading faster again, and only slowing occasionally. You’re nearly there.

Last: The Final Lap. The end is in sight. Only one more block. Only twenty more pages. Fifteen. Ten. Five. Two. One. You reach the end with a final burst of exultant speed. You gratefully slow to a walk and breath deeply. You shut the book with a satisfying thump. You did it.

These people surround me when I’m broken, and lift my spirit. They endure my changing moods: my crankiness, hyperness, tiredness, and quirkiness. They listen to me even when I don’t know what I’m saying, and they edify me. They build me up in truth and love, and inspire me to go to greater depths in every aspect of my life. They do not judge me when I cry before them; they lay hands on me and pray. These people are my chums, a beautiful body of friends, and I am so grateful for them.

He walks through the garden with his daughters traipsing behind, the father. The mid-morning light turns hazy in the heat of the day, so they retreat to the shade of the leaning oaks. He sets the crate down on a table and the girls clamber into chairs to peer down into it.

He lifts packets of seeds out and reads their names out loud. The girls want to take the packages in their own hands, but he gently rebukes them. Those aren’t the right seeds. The girls put them back in the crate, and he chooses the seeds to plant, giving two packages to each girl. The oldest sets them in the lap of her dress, watching her father. The younger examines the packages, repeating the names.

He carries the crate back into the shed and the girls climb down from their chairs. They skip and dance around him. “Come on girls,” he says. “Let’s take these home and plant.” He walks out of the garden with his daughters traipsing behind, the father.

We sit close together, our arms criss-crossed. You hold the paper and pen, my fingers roam over the words and empty spaces. Heads bent together, we combine our guesses to solve the puzzle.

You are a solid warmth at my side to lean on. This is a solitary game, but we know that two are better than one. Anyway, I couldn’t finish it without you.

Sometime after our vanquishing of the black and white challenge, I look across and see two others, a couple leaning into each other, heads touching, doing the crossword.