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2005-04-18 4:27 PM
A strange confession: I love hotels. Nice, big, corporate hotels. Of course, the charm of a quirky bed and breakfast is appealing too, and you can’t beat the low-budget coziness of sleeping on a family member’s pullout couch, but there’s something about the anonymity of a large hotel that has always appealed to me. It’s a paradox—it’s the anonymity that makes me feel so inexorably tied to the rest of humanity… connected to people I don’t know, people with whom I wouldn’t necessarily choose to share a roof, people who are passing through, or hiding out, or vacationing, or conferencing.
How do I love a nice hotel room? Let me count the ways. As someone who’s never had a TV in my bedroom, and never intends to, there’s something quite delicious about 40 channels and HBO, not to mention movies on demand. The only time I watch the Today show is in a hotel room. I’ve never understood the purpose of the phone in the bathroom, but it’s gotta be self-indulgent, right?
And the heavy opaque curtains,
creating nighttime conditions in the heat of day!
The extreme climate control!
The petite bottles of shampoo and conditioner!
Of thee I sing!
And don’t even get me started on the sprawling real estate that is the king-size bed. In fact, the virtue of the bedding in a nice hotel is worth a post in itself. Purveyors of nasty-hotel-sheet horror stories, please disperse.
I like the rooms comfortable and nondescript. Walking into a hotel room for the first time usually triggers some memory of a particular travel adventure, so the more generic, the better the trip down memory lane.
This particular room I’m in reminds me of a trip three summers ago to a homiletics conference where my mentor was preaching and lecturing. I was visiting family there that week, so I came downtown for the conference and crashed overnight in her room. It was awkward for me. I idolized this woman, but she was so over that. I had taken two classes from her, and after my last sermon, she had written me a page of comments (as was her practice) in which she said, “I am not your teacher anymore. It’s OK. Our relationship has shifted.” Well, apparently it had shifted for her, but not yet for me, because here I was, feeling like the proverbial puppy dog, tagging along while she worked. Take your mentee to work day.
The last time she had presented at this conference, a few other not-students-anymore had been with her as well, and they sat with her in a circle afterward and helped her think about how to make her presentation better. I felt sorely inadequate to do such a thing and hoped she wouldn’t ask me. I know those not-students, and as far as I’m concerned, they are giants, and compared to them I am a homiletical Lilliputian.
It was the night before my professor’s lecture, and she was cramming and stressing. I was eager to sleep, but I remembered how demotivating it was in college to write papers late into the night in a darkened dorm room while my roommate slept. So I stayed up—read, wrote, whatever. Every now and then the tapping of her laptop would fall silent, and I would start, oh I don’t know, beaming energy at her, willing creative spirit to flow. And the tapping would resume. Not a word was spoken.
Around midnight the portable printer whirred. At last! She closed the laptop with a snap, looked at me, and said, “You prayed me through that, didn’t you?” I nodded, surprised that she felt it, this gift that I had tried to give her. And I thought to myself, “She is not my teacher anymore. It’s OK. Our relationship has shifted.”
And it really was OK. I still think she hung the moon, but it’s different now. When my father died, and I was bereft and 39 weeks pregnant, unable to travel, shipwrecked from family, she was the first person to arrive at my house. She rubbed my swollen pregnant feet with a fragrant oil and listened to stories about my dad. Many months later during a return visit to seminary, I stayed at her house. We knitted until 1 in the morning, and she told me a story filled with complexity and heartbreak. Again I didn’t have much to say. But I think I prayed her through it as I knit two, purled two.
Our relationship as professor and student began in a classroom. Our friendship began in a room at the Marriott, an unremarkable, utilitarian place. And I get to remember that tonight as I sit by the window in another Marriott, the traffic from the interstate gliding silently below. That’s the beauty of hotel rooms; they are simple, unadorned stages on which countless everyday dramas take place.
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