Hi, my name is Shirley, and all my work centers on learning. Teach me something new and I’ll be your friend forever.
I believe that life itself, the good and the bad, is one big school.
I wrote a childhood memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World to understand where my drive to learn and to teach comes from. This is what I discovered:
“When I was little, I wanted to be big. And not just big as in tall, but big as in important, successful, influential. I wanted to be seen and listened to. I wanted to make a splash in the world.”
By the time I entered junior high school, two major changes had taken place in my life. I joined the Mennonite Church at age 12, and I decided in sixth grade that I wanted to be a teacher, like my hero Mrs. Lochner:
“If Shakespeare had observed Mrs. Lochner, he would have said she “bestrode our narrow world like a Colossus.” A tall woman, she wore her gray hair pulled back in an attractive bun, which on her looked regal rather than plain. I noticed her carriage, first of all. It wasn’t haughty, but it wasn’t humble either. I sensed a way of being in the world that rooted down deep and then spread out wide, an embracing stance that would not bend with the wind, but merely sway gracefully and rhythmically.”
By the time I graduated from Warwick High School, I had clarified the concept of “big.” By now I had many teacher-mentors, and I felt sure of my own calling to teach:
“It was the right dream for me. It united the passions I carried forward from Mother and Daddy; it connected me to a long tradition both inside the church and outside the church; and it was, in fact, the way God made me before the earth was born.”
My memoir Blush ends in the year 1966, when I left our family farm in Pennsylvania and drove to Virginia with my parents. I attended Eastern Mennonite College for the next four years.
I’m now in the process of exploring the letters, photos, and artifacts of those years to learn what they have to teach me. If you want to come along, please sign up to receive Magical Memoir Moments (in the upper-right sidebar).
After college, I went on to become a teacher, professor, college president, foundation executive, and author. If you want the details, you can find them in my Curriculum Vitae 2015.
And here I am as I look now, enjoying my encore vocation, circling around to the same desire I had as a young child — only now I would call my desire to become large instead of big. I want to be dissolved into something larger than myself. I’ve let go of a career I have loved; now I am living into my vocation. It’s still all about learning — and, by the grace of God, will be, right up to my very last breath.
Here’s the landscape of love for my encore vocation. The last words of my memoir attempt to describe what I feel when I get up each morning and gaze upon the Allegheny mountains of the Shenandoah Valley.
“Beyond the mountains lie more mountains. Beyond the meadows, another Home Place.
Beyond everything visible, all things invisible.
Beyond everything known, the glittering unknown.
Beyond the glitter, the gold.”