Once upon a time on a bright, sunny day a young teenager rode shotgun in his mom’s blue Chevy Chevette. The boy paid little attention to the busy streets and tall buildings as they entered the big city. He was too immersed in a DC Comics Presents book, something about an unlikely crossover between The Joker and Superman whom he adored.
Suddenly, his mom tapped his shoulder and said, “Look there. That’s the Cathedral of Learning. It’s one of the tallest university buildings in the world.”
The boy looked up and instantly forgot about the impending appearance of Wonder Woman (and hopefully her Invisible Plane) promised on the front cover. “Woah. It looks like it was built a long time ago, like in medieval times.”
“Yup, but it was only built in the 1920s,” his mom said and drove on.
“What’s it like inside?”
“I don’t know. Never went in.”
You may think, dear reader, that this would be the part of the story where the boy and his mother enter the towering building and encounter some wondrous sights and experiences in the signature structure at the University of Pittsburgh. But they did not go into the Cathedral that day, for they were visiting the large library across the street.
I finally visited the Cathedral on a school trip during my junior year. A picture from that visit of myself and a few mates even appeared in the yearbook. The building was cool but I never thought much more about it.
The high school years rolled on, and I consistently wasted most of my days while putting off thoughts of even attending college until my mom finally persuaded me to visit a localish state school. I applied and they mercifully accepted me.
You have to understand how directionless I was through those high school and college years. Relationships and kind people stand as the sole reason I made it through. Then a spark caught fire and I started to focus and grow and move. Something came alive inside me.
Through MANY more mistakes and failures I ended up becoming a lover of knowledge and education. I even became a teacher, and NO one saw that coming except maybe my mom who somehow always knew no matter how much I shunned the idea.
So imagine how my heart thumped earlier this week as I walked toward the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh to teach a course on the American Presidency in that building we once admired from the other side of that old Chevette’s windshield. It was more exciting than watching Superman save Perry White.
I love that building so much now because it makes me think of my mom and then God because there is no way I should have ever ended up as a teacher in that beautiful place unless they poured love into me like they did. Great parents to be raised by, those two are.
If you crane your neck and gaze all the way to the top of that building where the sun bounces off its peak you realize that even though we’re all limited there is someone much higher with a bird’s eye view on who we are and where we will go. It’s enough to make me squint with gratitude. I’m glad they called it a cathedral because even though it’s on a university campus worship makes sense when I consider the path of my life and how it wound up here.
I just found out my mom’s never gone inside the Cathedral! We will have to remedy that, especially since I would never be walking in there as a teacher if it hadn’t been for how she walked with me as a mom.
I can’t wait to show her all the cool architecture and displays, the international rooms, and even the wonky elevator system that goes to mysterious combinations of floor levels. Then I’m going to take her to my empty classroom where we can look out the window and laugh and marvel at the places we sometimes end up in life.