“Why?” she asks.
Her name is Emily. I met her five minutes ago. Her first question was “Do you like to dance or do you love to dance?” That turned into “Do you love to dance or are you in love with dance?” That turned into “If you are in love with dance, would you marry it?”
Now we are talking about my future. I tell her I’m going to be a teacher. And now we are here.
“Why?” she asks.
I mumble something about TFA offering me a placement. She seems content with this. Our conversation continues. When it threatens to die:
“Why?” she asks.
I appreciate what she’s doing. It makes a more interesting conversation than the typical party fare.
In three months, I will graduate from college (Lord willing that I finish my thesis first). I enter the shortest commitment I’ve ever made with my time. Two years teaching. Many of my peers will have shorter commitments than that if at all. It’s weird.
I want to plan the rest of my life right now. I want to lay down a plan. I want to have an end goal and I want to plot the path that will lead me there. I want to figure out exactly who I am. Who is the “real” Spencer? What does he like? What does he do?
In high school, I had a girlfriend, I played golf, and I was a practicing Christian. These things took up most parts of my identity. But I also did stupid stuff. I spent too much time on the computer, too much time watching television, too much time playing video games, too much time thinking life was hard.
When I went to Bible studies, though, we would talk about giving our lives over to God. But we hardly ever talked about television, video games, or the computer. Instead, the leader would turn to me and say “Spencer, what if God made you give up your girlfriend or golf?”
The conversation has evolved since then. No one puts it into quite those terms. We still talk primarily about the same thing, though. When we talk about wisdom, for instance, we correctly note the difference between wisdom and academic knowledge, but then we draw the wrong-headed conclusion that some academic knowledge, because it is not wisdom, is useless.
I want my life to have meaning. I try to achieve that through faith. If there are bigger ideas tugging at my soul like justice and peace and love, then it is easier to forget about the things that don’t matter. The problem is that, as a human, I must slog through the “thing that don’t matter.” I cannot instantly achieve justice, peace, or love. I must work at these things. I must chip away at the stones in my eyes that keep me from seeing them.
But what I hate about my faith is that it falls prey to the same things that the world falls prey to–namely, prescribed narratives. There are things in the Church that we assign importance to with no real explanation–mission trips, having a family, leading a ministry. We put up with the minutiae of our day-jobs and educations in order to be a part of these things. But these things, in and of themselves are not meaningful. Mission trips can sometimes do more harm than good. Families fail when members think their purpose on this earth is that family. The Westboro Baptist Church is a ministry. We lose justice, peace, and love for the American Dream. Or for the Christian sell-everything-you-have-and-walk-barefoot-around-the-world Dream.
I believe that God has an intimate relationship with me. I believe He is talking to me even when I’m not listening. And it is for this belief, that sometimes, I gain enough courage to trust.
Emily walks away. I’m glad. She is fun, but the question “why” is beginning to become annoying.
I begin to walk around the party more freely, not afraid to talk to groups of people I only marginally know. When the iPod stops playing, I know that I want to turn on music that I want to listen to. Informed by both my own tastes and those of the people at the party, I turn on Aaron’s Party.
Emily, who has left the room by now, comes back to dance. This time she does not ask why.
I really appreciate this story in the way that it juxtaposes these thoughts that our minds drift off into (these deep thoughtful tangents that the other isn’t able to hear and perhaps we may not be able to express in the contexts we find ourselves in) between simple “party” conversation. Despite the conversation diverging slightly from the norm, “a more interesting conversation than the typical party fare”, still in the end this person, this character, doesn’t ask why. Perhaps the narrator is annoyed because these deep thoughtful tangents take up most of his time– as they take up the majority of the space of this narrative– these answers to “why” he consistently asks.
Correct me if I am wrong 🙂 I find myself at odds with the paradigm that the “academic” is inherently ignorable, especially with how much of my own narrative and daily musings, occupations, thoughts, trend towards the academic, the insightful, the ponderous. Sometimes “a cigar is just a cigar”– sometimes you just want to dance.
To your second point first: I was at a Bible study last night where we literally talked about the merits or lack thereof of going to class. I’m with you. I think the academic is often a path to wisdom. The reason academics get thrown under the bus, I think, is that it is often set up as a thing close to wisdom. I don’t think that academics are any closer to wisdom than, say, gardening is.
To your first point: Reading your comment, I realized it’s very ironic that I spent an afternoon writing this post about these contemplative things when they are the very things I’m frustrated with.
I’m right there with you– the best advice I received recently was to “Give yourself a damn break and watch the Rugrats or something.” I will counterpoint that and say– don’t give up on your academic pursuits. There is something to be said about your (and our) ability to be constantly seeking knowledge and constant reflection. There is something to be said about being present and engaged in a classroom. But sometimes, you need to dance.
See, I think dancing and being present in the classroom are the same. That doesn’t come across very well in the piece. Being present is key. When we start worrying we aren’t in the right place, there’s trouble afoot.
Ahhh that’s beautiful. By being present, we are actually going against the norm….