I beg your indulgence yet again, patient Reader, for another absence. I was away at a conference, a gathering of medievalist hob-nobbing where literally thousands of scholars of all levels and formats congregated not to joust and wear frilly clothing, but to discuss, to learn, to wheedle and welcome and, of course, to drink. By this was I swept away as I underestimated (again) its consumptive qualities, and for this did I leave you. I believe this will be the last of such interruptions, though, as the school year shifts bumpily into the summer’s haze and paper deadlines are replaced with well-intentioned but never-finished reading lists. Despite the time-vacuum, I’m glad that I went to the conference; it’s given me much to ponder, in and out of my current profession and academic endeavors.
You see, this conference gave me permission.
Shocking though this admission may be to some, I am a person of much bluster and braggadocio. I loudly proclaim to do what I will and damn the consequences—and sometimes I do. More often, however, I’m simply weighted by fewer slips for permission than most; I seek the approval of a very small group of people, but I do seek it, and wait in my own murky and quiet ways for their (often unwitting) assent to my broader actions. We each, I think, have our small coterie of important characters whose sanction is not quite needed, but ever so important.
I sometimes convince myself that I need neither blessing nor endorsement on my actions, that I can make my own decisions all by myself, thank you. How surprised I was at this conference, then, to keep having moments of feeling as though my friends, mentors, colleagues, even Academia itself were somehow letting me go, releasing me from my service to The University in which I have begun to feel nigh indentured. Over and over I heard only that I should follow whatever path made me whole, gave me the joy I once found (that they still do) in this world of historical wonder and literary imagination. I did not know I needed that, yet now I feel freer than I have in months, in a year, in two.
It is okay for me to change courses because I have not failed the one to throw myself at the other. I will always be a medievalist, but I do not have to narrow the possibilities of what to do with that; I am allowed to take my field to new places that are also important and worthy.
This may all seem rather obvious to you, Reader, but then I was never any good at the Hidden Pictures like in Highlights magazine, either. I have been so intently focused on figuring out The Next Step and shoehorning what I know into whatever that’s surely going to be that I’ve quite lost my acceptance of who I am now and my sense of possibility for, well, possibilities. I’ve been staring right at the tiger when I need to stand on my head and look only at the corner to see the Mona Lisa suddenly appear (which, incidentally, I can’t actually do—I never mastered standing on my head. Or cartwheels).
Last week, at the conference, I asked a question of a brilliant Oxford scholar. I never ask questions at a panel, preferring to let the smart folk talk so I can soak in the information. But I asked, and both the scholar and the session presider commented on its merit, and the scholar and I had a right lovely chat about translation and vocation afterwards—he even signed my copy of his New Testament translation. (Serious fan girl moment at that point.)
Last week, I allowed myself to actually consider the possibility of delivering a paper next year.
Last week, I mingled and networked because I wanted to and I’m damn good at it, and I stopped when I didn’t want to be around people anymore, because I don’t have to build some nebulous bridge to work my way out of the academic shark tank. That’s not the life I’m going to live, and I don’t have to keep pretending that I have to build it anyway.
Last week, I was an academic.
Last week, I was an editor, as two friends of mine asked me to read over their papers for publishing and presenting and I did so, and I was good at it and contributed to their demonstration of ideas.
Last week, I was a person. Even before the conference I was surprising myself by singing in front of people I didn’t know because Interpreter asked me to, and I realized that that room full of strangers weren’t there to hear me sing at all—they were there for the God I was singing for, and so it didn’t matter so much that I totally goofed some things. The songs that were right were so right, and I got several compliments afterwards, but the point was that I saw through my own doubts and fears and awareness of what was “expected” of me to the God-stuff behind it where One was dancing in the moment of this motley collection of the broken being made whole in His community, His rhythm.
The only expectations I’m failing are my own, and those are so false I could never have lived up to them anyway. I have been given permission to give myself permission to see the permission I’ve had all along, waiting for me to realize that change is inevitable, that following new paths doesn’t mean falling short of the old ones, that this new course will be confusing and filled with mistakes and hardships—just like the old one was. But I have leave to tug on the sleeve of the All-Seeing and ask Him to help me stand on my head so I can see the elusive lady winking in laughter.
“Who knows, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b, CSB)