It's been a while since I wrote one of these, but the springtime has come calling, and Columbus is a city that feels like spring; a blend of old and new, red brick and silver metal, wrought iron gates arcing over the streets with nightclubs and artisan shops nestled side by side.
Start breakfast at Mozart's Bakery and Piano Cafe, a tip from alumna Maruta Vitols, where the pastries overflow with elegance in chocolate, cream, and/or fruit formats. Yes, it is possible to pack that many slivered almonds on a single honey-drenched, chocolate-covered shortcake bar. The morning coffee specials are practically desserts themselves; more savory-minded diners (like myself) will appreciate the omelets and quiches while being tempted by the local mead and ice cream and the international wine list as Ronda Alla Turca chimes in the background.
Walk south down High St, which will take you past bike shops, craft stores, houses converted into Indian restaurants and sushi joints; there are millions of side-tracks you could take here, bookstores you could walk into, graffiti on the dive bar walls you could read -- but you'll eventually come to West Lane Ave, a major intersection with a CVS on one corner and a Buffalo Wild Wings on the other.
Turn right. A few buildings down, you'll come across a chapel at the front of the Newman Center. Step inside -- it's midday, and the tiny chapel will be quiet and empty (and doesn't care whether you're Catholic or not); you're here for the stained glass mural wall that drenches the entire space with colored light, poured out from two great glass hands set in a multitude of sun-exploding shards. The candle to the left of the altar flickers behind another stained glass panel. Breathe for a while, then step outside and dart across the street -- this is only a pausing place; it isn't where you're staying.
You're headed to the Wexner Medical Center, which is on 10th Ave -- you could, if you like, catch a bus down High St (free with OSU student ID, $2 otherwise) -- but I prefer to continue walking past the coffeeshops, tattoo parlors, record stores, and all the other places that make up the bricolage of High. Turn right on 10th Ave and walk straight until you encounter Rhodes Hall, one of the main buildings in the Medical Center. It's right beside the Health Sciences Library, where librarians might surprise you by teaching you how to navigate the rich resources OSU has for medical issues you are curious about. The detailed 3D models of ears, kidneys, and so forth in the display cases are also fascinating, I know -- but keep going.
You are aiming for the 5th floor sanctuary on Rhodes; they celebrate a Mass here at 12:30pm Wednesdays, and it's an experience -- short (only half an hour) and drenched with the noises of a hospital; families clustered around "GET WELL, DAD!" balloons at nearby tables, construction cranes hoisting concrete in the background, wheelchairs rumbling past, patients and doctors lining up to receive Communion. Life feels so robust here, and so fragile at the same time. If you have a moment (and you do), walk with one of the patients back to their room after the service. Listen to their stories, give them an arm to lean on. That woman in the red bathrobe, stepping slowly in her non-skid socks after a surgery -- she used to be a technology teacher, her son now lives in Mexico, you'd like someone to walk with your mom for a little while if you were in Mexico and she were in the hospital. The man with the IV cart is here alone for chemotherapy, away from his family in Boston for at least another few months, waiting for an unsure transplant. You? You're blessed. We all are. Celebrate that.
Walk out of Rhodes; a block down 10th, turn left on Neil -- you'll know it's Neil by the smell of the hot dog cart in front of the College of Nursing. Walk up Neil, and you'll find the Oval -- if you're thirsty, pause beside Mirror Lake and get a smoothie underneath Pomerene Hall. Finish it all before you reach the Thompson Library, which towers above the Oval. Step in. There's reverence here, just as much reverence as in the tiny chapel with the giant stained-glass hands; this is a sanctuary for knowledge. Look upwards at the stacks upon stacks of books, story after story; whisper and settle in the reading room, wander the shelves. But in the end, head up the elevator to the top floor. There are small nooks there with big armchairs, tucked away; your own small sanctuary-within-a-sanctuary. Take a seat there overlooking the great grass Oval, watching students crisscross the campus. Work, read, think. Stay as long as you need to stay.
When you go back down and start trotting across the Oval you were overlooking, you'll notice most of the students you pass by are wearing earbuds of some sort. Don't wear yours. Listen! The boy in the track suit and lime-green headphones breathes in rhythm to his neon sneakers slapping the pavement. There's a raspy boom box somewhere playing hip-hop music. A girl all in black, huge sunglasses, napping on a park bench with her backpack underneath her head. The wind is grating past the trees -- the tall one whose bark looks like it's been drenched in matte white paint, the scrubby one nearby it that resembles a wooden sculpture of a bonfire, branches striking skywards from close to the ground. A bus stops by you; its computerized voice chimes its destination, and people carrying plastic bags full of their lunches shuffle on and off. Are they paying attention to the world around them? How about you?
On the other side of the Oval is the Wexner Center for the Arts, a feast of modern architecture; arcs and angles, slim vertical windows, and tasty local food at the Heirloom Cafe downstairs. Maybe a dance show will be playing there tonight -- go watch it, or check the art galleries downstairs. You never know what you'll find -- Indian dances? Renaissance ballets? Dadaist pieces with long-limbed dancers marching like poodles past a bass guitar player, then jumping backwards on the beat? Bodies in motion, spliced-together classic films that form an accurate 24-hour clock? Art galleries are awesome.
Evening. Run down High St, arms outstretched, just for a block or two or until you run out of breath. See how the beat of the street and all the lights and people on it have changed since this morning? Now is the time for nightlife; empty roads and crisp dark, crowded bars and good beer. Bodega on High and 3rd has a particularly good selection. But when you step outside from dinner, this time you're emerging into a sanctuary -- the quiet of the night, when all the music of the bars fades out behind you and you walk homewards with your own thoughts.
May we suggest that life is beautiful, and there's a universe inside each of our moments in this world? No matter where we travel, it is a privilege to walk this earth, be who we are in this time that we're given.