Monthly Archives: February 2013

Glimpses

20130221_193011 Some things, being so much worth celebrating, so much more than what you had been hoping for, and yet, so much a part of a much larger story, are near impossible to communicate.

Should a casual onlooker have dropped by my apartment on a recent morning, he or she would have noticed a few things.  Among them–three sets of shoes thrown about and a disorderly pile of clothes and books.  If Waldo had been hiding in the corner, he’d of never been found.  Yet, I remain a perpetually organizing, color-coding, stressed-when-a-room-is-cluttered neat freak.

All that’s to say, there is an inverse relationship between time I have to breathe each day and the cleanliness of my room.  Less time begets a a bigger mess.

The routine of the semester has comfortably set in and the predictions I made about how I would spend my time are proving to be accurate.  I recently met a paper deadline for a seminar class with about six hours of work, including all reading time.  By contrast, I’ll usually spend about six hours just preparing to do thesis writing every Saturday.

So with a skilled mental division of labor, I chose not to think about how this week’s Veritas Forum would upset my schedule.  Veritas seeks to engage the larger campus community with “life’s hardest questions” and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of it.  Academics who lead the forums include pretty much all the vocal Christian intellectuals who you’d think would be into this kind of thing, the scholars who like to tell them that they are wrong, and the most popular professors on each campus that hosts an event.

I knew Veritas was going to be good.  The marketing team killed it, the topic was provoking (science and faith), the guest speaker a genius, and it all felt right.  Last year, 100 people turned out for the first-time event.  This year, I fully expected 120-150 students and  great discussion.

I showed up during the hour between final tech preparations and when people were expected to start arriving, just because I wanted some time to sit and pray in the room.

But it didn’t work.  People started coming—super early.  That never happens on a college campus.  By the time the forum was underweight, 225 students had piled into the largest lecture hall on campus.  It was standing room only.

veritasThey came from everywhere–grad students, humanities majors, science majors, social science majors, community members, and professors.  They came with questions and objections.  From my seat in the middle of the very back row of the stadium hall, I saw everything, and it was extraordinary.

During lecture, an open computer screen in front of me wasn’t on facebook.  The kid was googling something the speaker said.  He pulled out a notecard and wrote down his question for the Q & A.  Friends kept quiet, running commentaries with each other during the presentation.  A Buddhist student’s forum-related facebook status made me laugh out loud.  Afterward, the biggest complaint I heard was that people had a questions Prof. Hutchinson didn’t have time to answer.

Crowds discussed the lecture at a reception afterward, and for all I know the cupcakes multiplied, because, for the first time in my life, the good food at a campus event didn’t run out.

Toward the end of the night, Abraham ran up to me with a stack of survey cards.  It was so tall, I thought it included blank cards, but it didn’t.  The survey asked the faith you grew up with, the faith you have now, and the biggest question the forum made you think about.

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Survey cards.

Despite having barely started a paper due the next morning, I poured through all 180 surveys, amazed at the responses.  People from all kinds of faith backgrounds showed up, and, based on the questions they wrote down, they were walking away wondering about the most basic questions.  What is truth?  Where does it come from?  How and why would Christianity fit into it?  For a lot of people, it was personal.

Needless to say, I’ve never been so excited about data entry.  Follow-up plans are already underweight and buzz from the event is still in conversation.

I wish I could say more.  I wish I could explain how much this meant to me and how long I had waited for it to come together.  I wish I could explain how that one single night fits into a hundred more and why it all matters.

Instead, I just have a messy bedroom.


A few words

Fixed a widget to my desktop as a constant reminder to go back to writing.

Somewhere between (still) staring at the first two pages of chapter three and trying to force myself to focus, I made a declaration to that little crevasse of my heart that had somehow not given up on the possibility of one day working in academia.  Research after graduate school and the unspoken dream of book writing were simply never going to happen.  Ever.

Funny that my writing had never been so relevant to anyone as it was yesterday.

Late last night, sheltered away from Nemo’s wrath and tucked underneath every single blanket I own, a friend came in and sat on the edge of my bed.  I had just gotten warm, so I didn’t even sit up.  She proceeded to talk to me about her summer plans, applications, and all the other questions that don’t leave your mind when you’re in college and don’t know where you are going next. Eventually, she asked me a very serious and direct question about decision-making.

Sadly, I don’t actually remember the exact question, which might speak to poor listening skills, but I’m pretty sure I can’t remember it just because I was so overwhelmed with the answer.

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Nemo from the inside of Exley

I had recently spent many hours untangling books, blogs, histories, videos, lectures, conversations, and ideas on the topic of her inquiry.  The only thing I had to show for it were those two pathetic pages in front of me.  But last night, instead of being a lamentably short introduction, those two pages were the clearest, most concise answer to my friend’s question.

Instead of adding to a muddled mess of thoughts, they helped.

Now, it is not lost on me that the realization that my words could matter for something came after I had an opportunity to share them with someone.  Discussing ideas always makes the good ones better and the bad ones obvious, but it was because I had driven myself mad writing them all down that I could offer a thoughtful, coherent answer to my friend.

All to say, as far as motivation to keep writing and belief that I can actually finish this in 61 days goes, last night was good.


Downshift

Once in the eighth grade, I did all sixty-some problems in the accelerated geometry textbook for a lesson because I forgot to write down which numbers to do.  I didn’t have the phone number of anyone in the class, so the only logical option in my over-achieving brain was to spend several hours doing what was suppose to be a half hour/forty-five minute assignment.  It was the only way I could still get my five homework points.

Yesterday, I realized that academic classes are the single least important part of my life right now.  My family, work, thesis, and (gasp) even my social life are all much higher on my priority list.

No doubt this is a good thing.  On the one hand, it means that somewhere between middle school and today, I appropriately toned-down unnecessary academic intensity.  On the other hand, it just reflects new priorities.

I was peripherally cognizant of this when I signed up and fought my way into easy (but respectable) courses this semester.  A lecture-based history course focusing on an era that I’ve already studied extensively is not challenge, especially when it has less reading and writing in the entire semester than what I’d get in three weeks of CSS.  I took a seminar on Political Thought in Israel, because I realized that if I do, I get an extra line on my diploma saying that I’ve earned a certificate in International Relations (a very nice thing to just stumble across).  Given my mediocre understanding of current events in the Middle East, I was surprised by how quickly I could do the reading and still make meaningful conversational contributions to the class.

By default, everything can’t be important, because then nothing is.  But the day when academics don’t matter (relatively so)?  I suppose I always saw it coming, but I certainly never expected it actually arrive.