Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The First Day

The last act before closing the office door after 41 years of employment in the institution was to leave the room key on the desk. I kept the dual purpose keycard (used both for ID and building access) mostly for reminders: beardless, aging...
Honesty must rank at or near the top of the most named virtues. On campus, academic integrity is insured by requiring students to add the Honor Pledge certifying ownership of work and by similarly requiring faculty to sign CVs in the annual reporting. And yet something vitally important is missing. Something about integrity.
Perhaps that’s what my threshold dream last night was trying to convey as I cross into the land of retirement. My accountability on this side of the life-stream more clearly owes to God. It always does, of course, but the evaluation systems imposed on students and faculty, to some degree like those in any obligated, enslaved, or employed status, impose obstacles against claiming personal authenticity. When does a person know clearly and show openly the direct line to and from the Source? That depends on a clean heart line, one that is not compromised by the impurities of human “merit” systems and peer comparisons.
In the dream, a former student appears and is agitated because the academic program had not made explicit the name of God. He’d just figured out that was the one-thing-most-important. He seemed upset because he should have been told sooner and more clearly that this was the key. And what if he hadn’t figured it out on his own! 
Continuing in the dream, I share with him my experience of coming to a realization of the significance of spirituality. I try to tell him that to reach this kind of understanding might depend on a person’s development of a maturity that’s ready to “get it.” And I suggest that reaching such an insight by oneself is probably essential. It cannot be given by someone else.
Today, in my predawn acting into this side of the river, I’m drawn to weed out a couple of plants that have grown up around the base of the oak. My vision now perceives how the little garden needs pruning. It’s our view from the back porch where we coffee-drinkers ask the morning what the day brings. 
The discernment of “weeds” and the adjustment that balances and reflects harmony provide an affirmation of beauty. It’s a very simple gesture and yet the space fills with a sense of rightness. I’m reminded of Keats’ next to last line in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:
                               Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
  Dishonesty glares blatantly across our political landscape these days. Perhaps we’re pushed to be more honest about the ways “greatness” has been aligned with greed, with status, with selfishness. Not with truth. Not with beauty. 
Looking back across the river, the mighty Potomac, perhaps more free now in post-employment, I wonder what persons who care can do. Will academic institutions find radical leadership? Or, like my dream figure, do we have to make our way individually?  Persons who care can clean enough heart-space to sense a true path and then follow it, often within but going against a value system that favors economic disparity, professional jealousy, and blind defense of hegemonic turf.
Parker Palmer (e.g., Let Your Life Speak) tells of moving from his doctorate at Berkeley to Pendle Hill where quality was enacted in a radically different structure, where as dean he washed dishes because everyone shared in the levels of work. Their pay scale was not outrageously disproportionate. Palmer lived truth of his degree in sociology. But Berkeley still seems proud of proclaiming economic inequity: “Male professors at University of California-Berkeley make on average $240,235 USD per year. This is $165,765 more than the average male university professor's annual salary ($74,470 USD).” 
        And Berkeley is our aspirational peer. Best we beware casting stones.