Hallelujah

The Lute Player

By Andrea Scarpino 

While walking the city our last day in Budapest, Zac and I wandered into a craft market wedged between two buildings. Table after table was filled with hand printed tee-shirts and skirts, handmade copper and silver rings and earrings, stationary, black and white photographs, felted purses and hats. We moved slowly from one table to the next, sunlight streaming down between the buildings, and right in the middle of that long, slow procession was a woman, guitar case open at her feet, playing guitar, singing—in Hungarian—Leonard Cohen’s famous “Hallelujah.” 

We squeezed into an empty space around a table of felted purses, the crowd around us pushing forward, and listened to her voice, a clear, lovely voice, singing words I couldn’t recognize but know by heart. Words I couldn’t recognize except for one: hallelujah. 

Over and over: hallelujah: “an expression of worship or rejoicing.”

I felt, in those three weeks of travel, that I was constantly rejoicing, full of gratitude for the chance to visit new places, for time with Zac, for meeting family. It was the first time in five years that I traveled without my computer, that I checked email only sporadically, that I allowed myself to just be, just be in a place without a schedule or timeline or expectations of what should happen next. I felt lighter than I have in a long time, free of any responsibility other than to get to the train or bus station on time for the next leg of our journey. 

Sometimes I felt overwhelmed with lack of direction—when I was brought from house to house meeting new relatives, for example, and had no idea how many relatives were left on the schedule to meet. But those moments were fleeting. Most of the time, I rejoiced in just being present where I was taken, in allowing myself to be led, in absorbing everything I could possibly absorb. Zac remarked frequently on how relaxed I looked, how free of stress in my face.

Now, of course, I’ve returned to responsibility. My next semester starts in two weeks, and even though June is officially reserved for faculty research, I’ve been spending hours in phone meetings, answering emails, preparing for July’s Residency. I’ve grown weary of beginning another semester in the middle of summer when the rest of my teaching friends and colleagues still have two months of break. I’ve grown weary of the mundane responsibilities, personality conflicts, petty disagreements probably present in every working environment.

And I’m trying to find, again, that sense of lightness, joy, rejoice. Gratitude that I have a job when so many I know do not. Gratitude at the beauty of summer in Marquette : hundreds of miles of trails to explore, rocky beaches, moderate temperatures, light until 10:30 or 11 at night. Gratitude for visiting friends, for friends wanting to visit. There is much in my life about which to rejoice, about which to feel grateful. The challenge, I’m beginning to understand, is to bring the lightness and joy I felt during three weeks of vacation into my everyday life. To remember how I felt standing in an alley in Budapest filled with color and light and music and a woman’s voice, again and again, singing hallelujah.