The slight fall of morning light slipping through the cracks of my window wakes me from my restless sleep to the crude demands of the morning. I roll out of bed into the shame of being unprepared: my clothes are not laid out, which means I will wake my roommate as I dig blindly through my very wrinkled dress shirts, my lunch is not made so once again I will go lunch-less, and I have a pile of ungraded math homework still waiting for me when I arrive at school. While I go about my early morning routine, all of these shames cluster in the blackness below my waking mind.
I enter the kitchen of my ancient apartment and hurriedly turn on the lights. My eyes dance from the floor to the refrigerator hoping to avoid catching a glimpse of the inevitable running of the roaches occurring below me as they scurry from the presence of light as if their very lives were deemed too sinister for life in the light. In the refrigerator, I find the needed caffeine rush in the form of canned bubbling chemicals. Desperately trying to escape considering anything above the automatic, I dress, brush my teeth, and hurry to my car in a matter of ten minutes.
“Get me out of this morning and on to bigger things” is all I can muster in a hurried prayer as I begin driving.
The car ride to where I work in West Dallas as an 8th grade math and science teacher carries me across several layers of Dallas. When I was growing up in North Dallas, I never made this drive, nor did I know anything about the totally different cultures of South and West Dallas, much less the many surrounding suburbs which make up what we simply call the Metroplex. My total lack of knowledge about the city I have called home for over twenty years struck me last year when I was on jury duty with a large group of South Dallas residents. Their conversations about local politics, churches, and socio-economic problems were so foreign and curious to me. Their concerns and perspectives were utterly different than what I was used to hearing in North Dallas, and I had never seen many of the places they referenced.
Beyond simply being geographically fragmented, Dallas has no discernible cohesive culture. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is an affinity for football and a hatred of Jerry Jones. Dallas’ cultural conglomeration is like a kid’s stick glued art project all jaggedly matched together and glittered with silver and blue sparkles. Dallas imports and slaps together all kinds of cultures stolen from other places like Austin’s hipster vibe, LA’s glam and glitz, the Deep South’s style and sense of class, and the cowboy swagger of West Texas with brief cases replacing the revolver in Dallas. None of it seems to be authentic, and if you went looking for Dallas’ soul, you would get lost somewhere between the Northpark Mall, Fair Park, and the Bishop Arts District.
As I drive, I go under the North Dallas Tollway, by the Salvation Army on old Harry Hines, and finally under I35, the great heartland highway which splits Texas into two discernable halves, before I reach the one unpopulated portion of my drive over the Trinity River and its surrounding flood plains.
When I cross the bridge just northwest of downtown Dallas, I look back to my left to catch the sunrise from the southeast behind the Dallas skyline. This morning the river is shrouded in a snake of smoky fog clinging to the water and walled by big pecan trees. The skyline is tinged in amber by the sun rising directly behind it, and above it all, the Dallas sky, which is bigger, wider, and higher than even the “everything is bigger in Texas” slogan lets on, is shaded orange, purple, and blue. When I arrive at school just on the other side of the bridge, I get out of the car and turn once again to face the amber beauty of this Texas sunrise. I give thanks for the sky, and as my mind stills and relinquishes some of its shame and anxiety in this moment of delight and thanksgiving, I am reminded of a prayer I wrote two years ago when I first started teaching:
Draw me to the present, the work of today
I repent of rejecting the meager means
Help me to embrace these trickles of You
Here, under the Dallas sky which I have seen lit up in a thousand different ways over 21 of my 27 years, I live.