A (Just Beyond) Midsummer Reflection
It’s difficult to believe that the calendar reads “August 1″ already. Like so many people who mourn the quick passing of the warm, sometimes sweltering-hot summer months, I am saddened to see how fast the time flies when, for the most part, one is having fun (or something). This morning seemed like a good time to take the opportunity to look back on the last few weeks and months and consider how, as the stereotypical elementary school first-day assignment goes, “I spent my ‘summer vacation.’”
First, as other women and men in an academic field can attest, there is no such thing as a “summer vacation” for scholars in the way that popular culture depicts. Mid-May doesn’t roll around and all of a sudden we find ourselves with nothing to do. Quite the opposite. Summer is the time for grad students to do some coursework or work on foreign languages; it’s time for students and professors alike to complete research begun in nascent forms during the super-busy academic year; it’s time for scholars of all sorts to focus on completing books and articles; write conference papers and then attend the conferences around the world at which said papers are to be presented; revise said papers in light of feedback from colleagues in the field at conferences; submit said papers to academic journals for peer-review and then potential publication; revise said papers in light of reviewer comments; prepare syllabi, lectures, and other material for Fall (and, if really organized, some Spring) courses; and then feel odd around August 1 that you only have a few weeks before beginning the next academic year.
I’m reminded of a quote from Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham when she is at dinner with the cousin who is, by way of legal snafu, now the heir to the estate and hears him (a professional-class lawyer) talk about when he has leisure time, particularly during the weekend. To which she replies quizzically: “What’s a ‘week-end?’”
Might many an academic ask: “What’s a summer vacation?”
Of course, contestation will arise — it is true, not all those in graduate school or on faculty at a university somewhere do all, or some, or any of these things. Why these folks aren’t doing these things is beyond me. But my experience is a mixture, one of natural inclination and the other of gratitude.
I don’t express any of what I’ve said so far to suggest that I don’t actually like what I and my colleagues do and, as it happens, really must do. If I didn’t enjoy this work — theological research, writing, lecturing, teaching, and so on — I wouldn’t be doing it and I’d probably opt to do something that would more readily offer a “week-end” or “summer vacation.”
This summer began for me with a period of time from mid-May through mid-June that I like to call “Conference Season.” It is the time when, immediately following the end of the Spring semester, theological conferences are scheduled to take place. That is also the time when many of the boards and committees I serve on also schedule meetings, and then there are the family and religious-community commitments. In other words, “Conference Season,” is a season of travel.
It is also a season of great joy. Connecting with colleagues, seeing brother friars, seeing family members, and so on. It involves an active engagement with the life of the mind (and one’s patience with the TSA). But it is a wonderful time that is nevertheless exhausting. I’m grateful for the magical amnesia that hits me in the Fall of every year during the call for papers for the following conference season — I always seem to forget the annoyances of travel, time, and energy, only to recall the fun and collegiality.
In addition to some research visits to archives, short trips to see family and friends here and there (I’m fortunate to live four hours from my parents and not much farther from my brothers and many friends), a trip to Seneca Falls to preside at the wedding of friends, a trip to my hometown of Utica, NY to run the nation’s largest 15k roadrace (68 mins, in case you were wondering), I have spent most of the remaining time to date completing some major writing projects and working on my foreign language skills. Among the writing projects are two books, each of which were in various stages of completion and both of which are due at the end of the year, and several articles. I also have another book coming out in the Fall, so the nitty-gritty details of book publishing are hitting their climax around this time — permissions requests, working with editors on the manuscript’s finishing touches, reports from the publisher’s marketing team, galley proofs, and so on. That all takes time.
One of the things I don’t think many people know about me is the number of speaking and writing invitations I receive every week, sometimes as frequently as everyday. It’s hard to quantify how much time goes into responding to requests, some of which I am able to accept and others I have to decline. The correspondence that goes into responding to such requests can take a great deal of time and energy too. I hate to say no, but it does have to happen, and I always want to make sure that every request is treated sincerely and considered thoroughly. All this to say that an increasingly surprising amount of the summer, I have found for at least the last two years, is spent on my upcoming calendar and corresponding with wonderful people from around the world about various requests for articles, chapters, lectures, and retreats.
Oh yeah, and I’m a priest. That means that in addition to the academic work, which I love, there is the opportunity to serve as a sacramental minister in the church. I love presiding at liturgies, preaching, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, baptizing infants, and offering the occasional spiritual direction. (Lady Grantham’s snarky question, “What’s a ‘week-end?’” seems again relevant). I’m fortunate to not only minister regularly during the year at Babson College and St. Anthony Shrine, but during the summer I find myself at a number of ministry locations including St. Anthony Shrine in Boston and, especially, St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, NJ, where I’ll be for two weekends in August (17 & 18, 24 & 25).
All in all, the summer has been very busy, very productive, and even enjoyable. I’m not the kind of person who likes to just sit around and “do nothing,” I’m not really sure what that means. I am looking forward to my own little getaway weeklong summer vacation starting tomorrow, which happens to be the Franciscan feast of the Portiuncula or “the little portion,” which refers to the Church in lower Assisi that was Francis’s beloved mother church for the Order of Friars Minor. I consider my short retreat and vacation my own “little portion,” so expect to hear little from me during that time.
I hope that everyone has had, so far, a safe, enjoyable, and perhaps even productive summer! I love the ministry — academic and sacramental — that I am privileged to do. May you be able to do what you love and find some rest along the way. Far too many people are burdened by systemic injustices in our society and world at large that make such a reality a near impossibility. May those who enjoy the ability to write, speak, lead, teach, and serve — in whatever capacity — work to change the systems and provide the conditions for the possibility that all might live their true vocation with dignity.