Leaving home creates not merely a sense of nostalgia but a sense of time shifting, warping from its constancy to something more approximating a lurching backward and hurtling forward. As Einstein reminds us, time is less constant nearer the speed of light, so it is perhaps no surprise that in times of intense change the present folds down its wings to encompass past and future in sudden and unexpected moments. In a single instant, one can find the ghosts of other memories mingling and hovering over the present. As I write these words and pack up my office, I simultaneously pack up the past to move my collection of great books and professorial paraphernalia into the future. With each object placed carefully into a box, I hear the echoes of colleagues’ voices when I moved in ten years ago, reverberating with times spent laughing or commiserating in the hallways. My eyes scanning the plush conference chairs, I remember the countless visits with students who sat here as we spent their college tenure trying to untangle the riddles and queries about life. The calls to this place, my work home, were many.
My experience certainly isn’t unique to anyone who has spent a long and meaningful time fulfilling one’s vocation. Such a calling is temporary, just as one’s life is temporary. Some of us are called to work in the same town all of their lives; others are nomads wandering the pasturelands. But even the former are in their own times and seasons only shortly, for all lives are in flux. It is Dante’s Primum Mobile that is constantly moving, powered by the celestial Empyrean and the very thought of God. It is hell that is in stasis.
It is not a trite thing to say that comfort is easy, while motion is hard. Motion demands change, flexibility, adaptation. In the transition, I have felt a deepening affinity with Abraham, who sojourned under the great trees of Mamre, but ever owned only the land he purchased for Sarah’s burial. He never saw the City that would be built after his death. I know the land into which I go, a land I did not expect to sojourn in again. Yet such is the nature of God’s call when one surrenders. I am one who errs on the side of human freedom and free will. But I also believe that when we choose to walk the road of faith we freely relinquish (in part) our control to draft the blueprints entirely to our desires.
In short, we must all leave home at some stage in our journey. As for mine, this next stage will see me moving west to take up the charge of Writing Center Director at California Baptist University. My task will be to help undergraduate and graduate students refine their rhetoric and communication skills, aid faculty design effective writing assignments, and facilitate recruitment and retention efforts for the institution through community outreach. I am excited at the prospects of teaching teachers, helping tutors and professors achieve their maximum potential as they in turn cultivate the maximum potential from their students. This may be the greatest gift of the educator. So, as I seek out milk and honey in the desert, I wish to leave behind a few words to those who have helped shape me.
To my colleagues: Your creativity and scholarship never fails to surprise me, and I am honored to have worked with such thoughtful professors, staff, and administrators. The depth of your learning inspires me to keep learning. Your passion for students has infused me with joy, and you have encouraged me to deepen my own passion and increase my own humanity. I have kept in good humor at the end of the day and at the end of the semester because of you. My spirits were lifted because your spirits never stooped so low. (And especially for those students who grew into colleagues, poetry could not do justice to how proud I am of you.) I have the greatest respect for your hard work, for your commitment to the work I leave behind, for rising each day to lay stones in the City of God. Know, too, that I will still be laboring with you, even if we no longer share in the camaraderie of laboring beside one another.
To my students: You have more in you than you can even yet imagine. Most of you feel disheartened, believing you can’t do it, it’s too hard, or you’re unworthy. But those are self-taught lies that blur the image of God in you. Because of that image, all of us are built with the capacity to learn, to create, to love. One of the joys of the educator is to watch the student take shape and develop those capacities. Through faith, virtue, and education do any of us emerge as a masterpiece beneath the veins of stone. I, too, a fellow work in progress, have tried to teach you truth, goodness, and beauty. I pray I answered your calls with patience and wisdom, planting seeds that will someday bear fruit for you and your children. And I am grateful that, beyond the roles of instructor and pupil, I can now call many of you friend.
To all readers: I will continue to write in my new land, sharing my meagre thoughts about culture, faith, and art, should you wish to read them. That much will not change at least. Some of us will not see each other again this side of paradise, but as Dante sings of heaven, “Nearness is nothing, distance is no thief” (Par. 30.121). So when I am saddened to think of parting ways, I am heartened with a folding forward of the future to think we will spend all of eternity enjoying each other’s fellowship, deepening our friendship, and cultivating the divine image in each of us. That time isn’t so far away. And that thought turns my sadness to joy.
Farewell, Faulkner. Until we meet again on our road toward the City.