I’ve been doing a lot of de-cluttering lately.
Beginning of a new year, returning from a semester away,
it’s time to cull books, which leads to rearranging wall hangings and other objects of art.
I saw these beautiful bookends in a new way this week.
They commemorate a momentous time in my life, the day the Goshen College community formally initiated me
into the role of president,
after having called me a year earlier.
I am touched anew by the thoughtfulness of Welby and Sharon, who special ordered these replicas from the doors of the Library of Congress
and chose the words engraved on the bookends.
It has been twenty years since my inauguration.
Now is the time for two other inaugurations, the first in Washington, DC this week,
of which I will have more to say later,
The text from Ecclesiastes struck me forcefully in a new way as I begin to teach a course,
What better words could there be for a teacher?
It so happens that the class I am teaching, Honors Worldview, is also a “bookend.”
From the syllabus:
This course forms the “book end” to the first Honors course called Ruling Ideas in which students are challenged to define “why do you believe what you believe?”
As a “capstone” class, Honrs 401A Worldview reviews the answers to this question and adds another: what do you believe you are called to become? And how will you continue asking and answering this question in the future?
Finally, I am thinking about the bookend of place as I look out the window of my beautiful, temporary, campus office:
Being here on the campus I first knew as a student 50 years ago always makes me nostalgic.
Being here at the invitation of a former student who told me he was going to grad school and coming back to take my job, makes me smile.
The first time I sat in Mark’s chair and gazed at the amazing collection of American Studies artifacts he has accumulated over the years, I wanted to read every book and study every object.
Of course, I won’t.
Professors have never read all the books on their shelves.
And some of the objects they love, they neglect until the right day comes.
Like my inaugural bookends above, for example.
From the window in the office, I can see the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.
Will that be my next stop in life?
The circle has turned almost completely to its beginning point in my life.
But not quite.
Like an essay that begins with a great hook and returns to the same theme in the end, our lives resemble circles.
But here’s the thing.
Mark and I both studied with Professor Bill Stott at the University of Texas at Austin.
I have always remembered Professor Stott’s advice about essay writing:
“Don’t tie that ending up into a tight little bow at the end.
bring the circle round until it ALMOST touches,
then send it out like an arrow in search of something new and surprising” —
make it a bookend, in other words, that never stops looking for new words, new worlds, to hold.
What book end(s) are you looking at in life right now? Do you identify with Bill Stott’s advice?
With the quote from Ecclesiastes above?