Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The reality of my impending departure from St. Louis is finally sinking in. I was so busy with grading exams and papers during the last week that I didn't really have time to think about it, but now grades are done, students have left, and graduation is over, and I am aware of how many people I have grown so close to over the past three years. Oddly enough, given that I have been living with the Marianists rather than men from my own order, this is the longest I have lived in any one place in thirteen years of religious life. That, plus the fact that I have enjoyed the work so much and have had so many varied opportunities to interact with students, means that there are a lot of people here who have become very special to me, so leaving is painful. That is as it should be, of course - to not miss anyone would mean there was no one whose presence I desired. This weekend has become a whirlwind of chances to see people - after commencement today, one of my students and his parents took me to eat, and then another graduation party this evening. Tomorrow, lunch with a colleague and former professor of mine, then two back-to-back parties for students or friends who just graduated. I genuinely can't wait to get started in Syracuse in the fall, but in the meantime saying farewells to people I have known and cared about for years hurts. Last week we had a closing event at my house for all the students in the Micah program, the residential service-learning community with which I have worked for three years. About fifty students took over the back yard, and included in all the goofing off were slideshows from the freshmen and from the upperclassmen - there are a lot of memories tied in to thatprogram and those people - so I'll post a few photos soon from those slideshows...
On a side note, I was just watching a video of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and he was talking about his work before and during the Vietnam War to build a school of public service and to care for people who had been traumatized by the war. He referred to the number of widows and orphans that the war created, and as a teacher of Old Testament, my thoughts went to the endless repetitions of the obligation to care for widows, orphans, and aliens (see EX 22:20-21; EX 23:9; LV 19:33; DT 10:18; IS 1:16; IS 10:1-2; etc.) as groups that had no patron and so could easily fall through the cracks of society. While certainly any moment can produce orphans and widows, war naturally produces them in hyperabundance - Nhat Hanh as well as Torah seem to be pointing people to recognition of the underbelly of warfare. Our own community was founded in the wake of the French Revolution, when civil war had not only left large numbers of children orphans, but had decimated any social systems that might have been in a position to care for them. Our community was founded to care for orphans, and of course we have focused on schools for much of our history rather than orphanages (although we still had orphanages until not that long ago), but in a number of places in the global south, our Brothers are returning to that founding work and caring for orphans, although this time they are the product of the AIDS epidemic rather than armed conflict. I love working in the university setting and really (REALLY) want to continue doing so, but I have been reminded of late not to let myself get sucked into the parts of academia which, although attractive, are conducive to getting lost in the ivory tower: a focus on publishing for its own sake, producing "academic b.s." - that which may well be totally accurate but is completely worthless, and allowing myself to stay inside the "bubble" of the university rather than engaging with people living in far less pristine circumstances.


ConcordPastor said...

I had read your blog some time ago but had stopped checking in after you hadn't posted for so long. Just happened to come here this evening and I'm pleased to see that you're posting - and that you were accepted into the Syracuse PhD program!

I hope you'll keep posting. I think you write well and that you have something very worthwhile to say - it's refreshing!


Br. Patrick said...

Dear Austin,

Thanks for your comments and your gentle critique - I enjoy fiddling around with this blog, but it unfortunately takes the back burner when things get busy, so I go too long without working on it.