Tomorrow marks the end of reading week. Mine has been a fruitful time on many fronts. Last weekend we made our way up to Ottawa to spend some time with our middle daughter, and to enjoy a bit of Ottawa’s Winterlude. On Sunday morning we managed to hear Dr. Anthony Bailey preach, a Caribbean-Canadian with a stellar homiletic reputation, who did not disappoint. In the afternoon we managed to see an exhibit on Vikings at the Canadian Museum of History. I’m always up for learning a bit more about that bit of me down deep in my DNA. We then had dinner with a dear friend that evening and took opportunity the next day to skate on the world’s largest rink, the Rideau Canal.
After the trip home I was able to make use of some free time in this non-teaching week to get caught up on a few academic duties: putting some emails to rest, pulling together some proposals, getting some editing done, etc. Yesterday gave me occasion to attend the Conestoga College Annual Powwow, where I connected with some friends and again heard the earth’s heart beat.
All in all, it has been a good week and I feel recharged. Tomorrow we go back to the books in earnest for the back half of the semester. It will be a bit of a whirlwind with a number of special events, and some speaking responsibilities. I’m not quite there, but I am feeling close to ready. Reading week has been good.
As I think back on this break, it strikes me that one of the gifts it has given me is some space to stop and look back. In our harried existence, we too rarely do that. The present has its demands, and the future has its anxieties and the two together make for anxious demands and demanding anxieties. Sometimes a little historic distance is the tonic in need. Of course, the past is not always a balm. I suspect that most of us have moments that we would rather not remember, yet they sneak up on us unawares. A song triggers a heartbreak not quite mended. A smell reminds us of a loved one missed. A look in the mirror brings to mind years that have raced by. All of us overtaken by events and emotions, hurts and lost opportunities that catch us by surprise.
I sometimes wonder if part of the sting of the past comes from an incapacity that is, in part, self-inflicted. If we do not regularly revisit our past in its breadth, when it sneaks up on us with its deep pains we face them myopically. Our historic range becomes limited and when unsummoned memories emerge we can’t place them in a broader context. It is interesting that the Psalms – as but one example of biblical literature – revisit the past with astounding regularity: both times good and bad. The benefit of this, I think, might be in its developing our capacity to establish a context for landing recollections that come out of the blue. I don’t see this as a panacea for our pain, but I sometimes think the recollection of our past is rather like watching the nightly news. I sit in my chair and receive a distillation of the worst of humanity’s faults and vices in 22 minutes. Yes, there are horrors developing in the world, but I’m not seeing the big picture.
Well, soon my vision will focus again on the pressing needs of grading, lectures and meetings, and that is how it should be. But maybe, just maybe, a little bit of this week can seep into the weeks ahead.