I’ve never used chalk until I came to Harvard. Now I’ve fallen in love.
Chalk writing is theological for me. It presents me with that overwhelmingly devotional sensation one only really encounters in the face of great art. Chalk-writing is like hymn-singing, with letters sung rather than spoken. With the chalk treading through the black board, the production of its weighty strokes reminds me of medieval monks copying the Bible—in the service of their Lord. Whereas Keats despaired at the fleetingness of life, where one’s name is”writ in water,” words on the chalk board are writ in blood, the blood of faith and sacrifice of Abraham towards Isaac, words engraved in blood that transcends time’s transitoriness.
Standing in front of the great mess that is the chalk board, with its equations and arrows and all the gray smudge left by past chalk, the gap between my life and my deeds is sutured. The great eddy of chalk sucks me into the all-consuming world of thought, and I remain a happy convict. There, in the heart of darkness, with my overwhelming equanimity and wonder at all there is, it comes to me as a trivial proposition that I need nothing more nor less, for I am presented with the kernel of life itself, with that which makes life whole, with love.