Monday, July 20, 2015

A Litany of Gratitude

It’s a bit surreal announcing your retirement over Facebook. Wonderful, supportive comments flow in from former colleagues, students, family and friends. It’s like attending your own funeral while you’re still alive. And, at some level, I suppose retirement is a death of sorts.

It has been deeply gratifying to read these comments and to sense that perhaps my life as a teacher has actually made a difference in the world. With no biological children of my own, it is the students I have known in my long career as a teacher who will carry on whatever legacy I might have bequeathed them. Hearing these words of support from those whose lives I have touched and which have in turn touched my own has been truly wonderful even in this somewhat surreal cyber cemetery. I am grateful for every comment.

Soul searching, Isle of Iona, Scotland, UK  July 7, 2015

A Very Long List of Givers

I came to the university somewhat unexpectedly, having just completed my Ph.D. at Florida State and suddenly finding myself feeling strangely out of place at the community college where I had taught off and on for 12 years sandwiched around seminary and grad school. I had no guarantee of anything when I left my tenure line at Valencia and began teaching as an adjunct at UCF. Fortune smiled upon me as I landed first a visiting instructor line, four years later a permanent instructorship and two years ago saw my job description change to assistant lecturer.

Now, 13 years later, I unexpectedly find myself retiring at 62. In reviewing that history I am reminded of a rabbinical proverb which is one of my favorite sayings: “If you want to make G-d laugh, tell G-d your plans.”

As I assess my 13 years at the University of Central Florida, I am struck by the many aspects of my life there for which I am grateful. I am a strong believer in expressing gratitude. Most of the primal religions of the world which preceded and in some cases have survived the rise of major world religions are centered on gratitude. I observe that gratitude is too often a lost practice in an insatiable consumerist world of instant gratification. And so let me take a moment to enumerate some of the people and their contributions to my life for which I am grateful.

First of all, I am deeply grateful for the department chair who encouraged me to apply for the visiting line instructor position I eventually won. It was my entree into the university at a point I was deeply uncertain of where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing. I am also grateful for the department who agreed to hire me after just a year of adjuncting for them. They took a chance on me and I am thankful.

I am grateful for the many, many fine students I have had the privilege to know at the university. They have taught me much, stretched me, enriched my life, moved my heart and challenged my soul. I watch their progress in the worlds they are creating and I feel no small amount of pride and excitement for them. No longer their teacher, I am now proud to call many my friends. I am decidedly a better person for having known them and I know the world will be a better place because of them. For the privilege of playing a small role in their lives I am deeply grateful.

I am also grateful for the very fine people I have worked with at the Philosophy Department beginning with the very fine office staff and student assistants whose assistance in doing my own job has always been indispensable. Their hard work and their value to the department is rarely recognized. But without them, the department simply could not function. I want to extend my deepest thanks to them and to wish them G-dspeed.

I am deeply grateful to those I have called colleagues for 13 years. Just conversing with them day to day has inevitably proven stimulating and challenging. As a result I have continued to learn and grow as a result of constant exposure to new ideas, thinkers and systems of thought. It has been a privilege to work with so many very bright and thoughtful people. They have changed my life and for that I am deeply grateful and I am proud to call many of them my friends. As one of my colleagues said in her note to me, “I look forward to seeing you outside the factory.”


I am also very grateful to the regional campus staff at Osceola Campus, Kississimmee, who took me in and made me feel a part of that campus family. One of my great regrets in leaving UCF is that the active teaching we had all hoped would happen there never was able to develop. But I thank everyone in that very fine office staff and administration who did their best to try to make that happen.  

I am grateful to a very fine library staff whose helpfulness in helping faculty locate research and classroom materials which may or may not be on-site is matched by its willingness to help largely disinterested students become familiar with the workings of an actual library. Like many of us today, their jobs are performed in the growing shadow of major changes that may well render libraries and higher education very different animals from their current incarnation in the near future.

There are also many unsung heroes at the university for whom I am grateful. I give thanks for the men and women who regularly clean our classrooms and offices, buildings long since pushed well past their capacities by an irresponsible admissions policy at an overcrowded credentials factory. Their work in the routine cleaning of these overtaxed facilities is no doubt a challenge. I am grateful for the many clerks and secretaries, grounds crews and maintenance people, food preparers and vendors whose labor ensures that the university can work properly. 

And while I question the wisdom and the cost of the bloated bureaucracy that our corporate management has created as well as the security forces that periodically provide glaring examples of how not to police a college campus, I recognize that without them, this ever expanding leviathan that the university has become could not function. Begrudgingly, I am grateful for them as well.

Deep Gratitude for Their Many Gifts

Fulbright scholars at Carneval show, Rio de Janeiro 2011

I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to continue growing and learning as a scholar and as a human being because of my affiliation with the university. Over my 13 years there, I have been able to continue my love for learning in seven foreign countries representing four different languages. I was able to become a Fulbright scholar, a fellow at an NEH seminar on global ethics and a Schusterman Institute fellow in Israel Studies. My world has expanded greatly as a result of my time at the university and for that I am grateful.

I am grateful for the recognition my work has upon occasion received from the university. In particular I am grateful for being named to one of 10 Excellence in Undergraduate Education awards university-wide in 2009 and for my Outstanding evaluations in my department for nine of the last 11 years. It is these kinds of moral rewards that keep many of us going in jobs whose financial compensation rarely reflects the quality or the quantity of service we offer and whose often untenable work conditions make such offerings a sacrifice on a good day.   

I am also begrudgingly grateful for the years I spent teaching in the Honors College. A challenge on a good day, a major pain on the worst (no one does entitlement better than honors students or self-congratulatory elitism better than honors college staffs), I did come to know some truly outstanding young men and women there. More than that, I am grateful for the many fine students I helped navigate through the Honors in the Majors program. They are among the young Jedis I have been privileged to assist in the long process of finding their voices. I truly believe they have much to say and with that the ability to change the world.

One of my greatest reasons for gratitude is a little orange tabby once feral cat who came to live at our home as a result of the efforts of our office manager who served in our campus feral cat feeding program. When an apartment building the university had been renting changed hands and its management decided to liquidate the feral cat colony living in its parking lot, our office manager managed to capture this beautiful little girl and asked me if I could take her. The cat registered her response to this new arrangement once at my home by promptly opening a two inch long running wound on my right hand which still bears the scar. She lived behind our water heater in the utility room for the first six weeks of her time here.

My students named her Frida given my love for the Mexicana artist and, gradually warming up to life inside a house with two human animals, two other cats and two dogs, she has become one of the great joys in my life these last eight years. Frida never grew much and even now is about the size of a large kitten. I greet “my little golden dew drop” each day when I come into give her a kiss good morning on her perch atop the water heater. She organizes snack time each morning for all five of the animals by loudly and insistently reminding me beginning about 9 AM that “It’s SNACK time!”  and bumping my leg with her head by about 10 AM if I ignore her. For this little love of my life whom I deeply cherish I will always be grateful.

Most of all, I am grateful that the timing of my employment at the university allowed me to retire when the time came for me to finally leave the factory and not simply quit with nothing to show for it. My retirement check after 20 years working for the State of Florida will, not surprisingly, be rather minimal. (At least I won’t have to pee in a cup to get it) But it will serve as an unemployment compensation of sorts for the time being as I lick my wounds, catch my breath and discern my next calling in life.

I am not unmindful that many people end up stuck at jobs which, like mine, come to make their lives miserable and yet do not have the option to leave. For the privilege of being able to depart on my own schedule, to not lose my medical coverage in the process (because my husband’s policy at Valencia will cover me), to rest and recover before beginning the search for the next chapter of my life, I am profoundly grateful.

Finally, for the many people whose lives have played a role in my own whom I may have neglected to mention here, I ask your pardon. I take no one for granted, receive no gift without gratitude and I assure you that I am thankful for your role in my life.

Goodbye, UCF. And thank you.

For today, I am grateful
For tomorrow, I am hopeful
For my life, I am blessed
I thank my ancestors for their labors and survival
I thank my contemporaries for their companionship
I thank my descendants for carrying me with them

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)



Rosemary DuRocher said...

I am grateful for your friendship.
Rosemary DuRocher

Bob said...

Grateful to know you and always love reading Redeeming Barth. May it inform us of your next phase in life. Kudos.