Friday, December 13, 2013

Barometers of Life II – A New World Coming

There's a New World Coming
And it's just around the bend
There's a new world coming
This one's coming to an end

There's a new voice calling
You can hear it if you try
And it's growing stronger
With each day that passes by

There’s a New World Coming, Mama Cass Elliot (1970)

A Sign that Life is Changing

I have been very intentional about getting into my yard these last few weeks and working to bring the jungle back into a semblance of control once the crush of this impossible, unrealistic semester was through. For me, every pulled weed, every transplanted flower was a statement that I was reclaiming my life, that I was unwilling to continue flushing inordinate amounts of my life energies down the toilet for someone else’s imperatives. It was an insistence that my own time and place accounted for at least as much as those who increasingly demand of those energies without much consideration of how reasonable their demands might be.

It is also a visible reminder to myself that my life is changing. The new position I was finally able to obtain, albeit as the runner-up in that competition, will be primarily taught online with the possibility of periodic live classes at the Osceola Campus and the occasional course on main campus. While I have mixed feelings at best about online education, I relish the ability to work on my classes from home with Oscar, the dachshund, at my feet and Magdalena, the drama queen cat perched on the printer. With my schedule in my own hands, I look forward to the possibility of perhaps getting some writing done, releasing some of those demons in my head who increasingly claw at my brain demanding to be at least released to my computer screen.

The new position also means less time on main campus with its 25 minute one-way, toll-laden commute. It means not having to pay $180 annual parking fees for spaces that may or may not be available depending upon the all-important football program and any number of entertainment opportunities brought to a campus which advertises itself as the University of Comfort and Fun. It means less immediate presence within the toxic politics of the university and the ego-driven competition of academics.

It means less time serving as an all-purpose, drive by advisor/technocrat  presumed to be on-call for any student who cannot find their own advisor, regardless of major. It means being less readily available for any number of “service” obligations tacked onto a fluid, ever-expanding job description even as course releases to compensate those additional duties disappear.

No doubt I will miss a number of my students and co-workers. My last day of classes Monday I found myself overwhelmed with sadness at the realization that it would probably be the last time I’d be in a university classroom until at least summer. Indeed, I worry about how well a life-long extravert who loves to be at the front of a classroom of any kind will adapt to being alone, tethered to a computer. But at this point I am willing to try. And I have a sense that the timing for this change could not have been better.

Michigan Meditations

It is no accident that my first response to liberation from the grueling endurance test of Oktoberfest was to get my hands into the very earth of my front yard. The earth grounds me, both literally and spiritually. Returning to the earth also reflects an unexpected spiritual turn my life has taken in the last year. I find myself seeking to deepen my understanding and practice of my native Franciscan spirituality (including courses with New Mexico Franciscan Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation) and to live out that spirituality in a devotion to the good creation and justice making.  

Digging in the dirt also reflects the down to earth realities of the working poor I have come to know from my daily bus ride to work. They have become my new teachers offering lessons from life experiences that are very different from my own.

One of the first places I began to withdraw my support for and presence at the university this term was in refusing to pay to park at my place of employment. This reflects an unwillingness to add my car and its fuel consumption to a culture unwilling to deal with its addiction to fossil fuels as well as the additional strain their use places on a climate already in danger.

Working in my garden not only grounds me, it slows me down, much like riding the bus. It gives me time to think, to reflect on my life activities, to ponder what is important to me. Such reflection often centers upon what I need to be doing with the remaining time and energies I have left on this earth.

My garden is helping me solidify the understandings which slowly coalesced last summer during my four weeks of walking the banks of the Red Cedar River among the specimen trees, shrubs and acres of annual flowers at Michigan State after the long, mind-numbing daily sessions in the classroom. I am grateful to Michigan for the time and space to reflect in such a beautiful setting. Here is what my meditations in Michigan helped me realize:

  • I don’t owe anyone anything at this point in my life. I have paid my dues. And I intend to be in no one’s debt if I can avoid it.

·         I will resist being manipulated into meeting any obligations I am not willing to assume and have a choice about. Too much of my life has been marked by a largely unrecognized codependency.

·         At this point in my life, I have nothing left to prove to anyone. My degrees, awards and experiences speak for themselves. Those who really know me recognize and appreciate my capabilities and my accomplishments already.

·         I will seek no one’s affirmation to be OK with myself. After a lifetime of conditionalized self-regard giving rise to compulsive affirmation seeking, this requires major effort and it is easy to forget this. But my sense of my self and my value must remain in my own hands, not in the hands of the arbitrary affirming/disaffirming other. Nonconformity is often the price of authenticity.

·         I am no longer willing to engage in competitions for status, power or privilege of any kind. I have nothing to gain, nothing to prove and there is nothing I particularly desire from such competitions, most of which tend to be mindless.

·         I will resist consumer advertising which would sell me things I do not want or need by conditionalizing my self-esteem. I am content with what I have in life and I cherish the living beings I have been given to love.

·         Finally, I seek to make whatever contribution to the world I can make in the time and energies I have remaining to make the world a better place. This is no different from any other time in my life. But it means making conscious choices about what is a valuable expenditure of energies and what it not. And it takes on a bit more urgency now that I have attained the age of 60.

For a long time now I have been in the process of reassessing all the aspects of my life, withdrawing my support from those aspects which demand energy and time for imperatives I no longer share (or perhaps never did). Among them are consumerism, academic status games, corporate-driven higher education imperatives, gay tribalism, institutional religious tribalism, the pointlessness of most sporting events and free market fundamentalism in all its demonic guises.

Simultaneously I have been seeking to discern and pursue those aspects of life which call to me at this juncture of my life journey. They include solidarity with the working poor, protecting and serving the good creation, seeking spiritual depth and breadth, mentoring the leaders of tomorrow when given the opportunity, teaching those truly wish to become educated human beings when given the opportunity, offering the benefit of my experience to those willing to listen, learning from the many, MANY sources who have much to still teach me, seeking right relation with all living beings and, as always, working for justice.

In all honesty, I look forward to the changes that are already underway and those yet to come with elation, excitement, confusion and no small amount of terror. Though I have no crystal ball, I sense that I have much more work to do before my time here is over. No doubt my garden and my library will continue to prove the barometers of how healthy this next phase of life proves to be.

Safe in my garden, an ancient flower blooms
And the scent from its nature, slowly squares my room

 “Safe In My Garden,” The Mamas & The Papas  (1968)

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, Ph.D., J.D., M.Div.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Third Order Anglican Franciscan (TSSF)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida,
Osceola Regional Campus, Valencia College, Kissimmee, FL

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to know you Harry, glad to hear your reflections of a life lived with purpose and love! Hugs to you, Andy and your fur babies!