Karl

It was the fall of our senior year at college.  Jon and I were recently engaged, and I remember the excitement and busyness of those days.  Wrapping up college and planning for a brand new future is no small thing, and my days were full of final term papers and short stories, working part-time at a campus office, and wedding planning.  There is just something about autumn time in the Midwest, all cold and beautiful and crisp.

It was in one of those senior writing classes that I met Karl.  I believe he had been in some of  my underclassman electives and composition classes, as he too, was a writing major.  I had just never really paid attention.

Karl was as thin as a rail….gaunt really.  Pale and wide-eyed and ever so quiet.  He seemed to be perpetually cold, wearing a beanie in between classes to keep the Indiana autumn wind at bay.  His backpack seemed to pull him earthward; he was that small.  Melancholy, you might have thought of him.

Our common major threw us together in more classes that senior year, but it was in our short story class that we became better acquainted.

Karl could write.

Good gracious, could he write.

The stories that poured themselves from his mind appeared effortless.  Penetrating, deep, and appropriately witty, Karl drew the reader in immediately.  When the story was over, one was left with the imprint of God.  This was done winsomely and sweetly and quietly.  Like Karl.

One day our professor had us swap papers.  “Kristin, you and Karl switch papers.”  We took them back to our dorms overnight, and were asked to read them and make red pen suggestions in the wide margins.

Karl carefully tucked my paper in his backpack and waved goodbye.

I took his and placed it in my notebook, wishing I didn’t have another class to go to.

His story, of course, was phenomenal.  When I reached the conclusion, my eyes were full of tears.  The story, I then believed, reflected who Karl was.  The main character felt invisible to his peers; his family.  Was I guilty of making Karl feel invisible during those college years?

I thought back to those many times that Karl ate supper alone in the Dining Commons, while most everyone ate with friends.  I recalled him reading a book before class started….rather than chit chatting.

I gave the paper back to him the next day; with scarcely a mark on it.

“It was wonderful,” I said quietly.  “Really, really good.”

He smiled briefly.  “I enjoyed your story too.” His voice was small.  He started to say something, but instead handed me my story as the professor began the lecture.

I flipped to the end of my story, and saw Karl’s steady, even handwriting.

You write well.  But you don’t need to have a perfect ending every time.  Life isn’t that way.  Not everything can be fixed.”

My eyes smarted.  He was beautifully and painfully correct in his assessment.

I wonder what happened to Karl.  I made a point of saying hello to him often that year as we passed one another on that wide open campus. 

Karl knew God and understood that His ways are not our ways.  His stories reflected his assurance of faith in Jesus.  While on this earth, not everything can be fixed.

Nearly 25 years have passed and I still see that thin wisp of a boy, walking alone, backpack leaning heavily, shivering in the wind.

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