Our vision of life can be so narrow. Many of us associate with “our own kind,” and certainly not with those who make us uncomfortable. But those “uncomfortable” folks are part of our reality, and we need to embrace them as part of our life so we can live fully and be aware of our surroundings and our purpose in life.
I grew up in the projects, so I know hunger, fear, and that sense that you’re just barely hanging on. I put myself through college, in part thanks to my dad never escaping the poverty level. That allowed me to get a PELL grant. But I have also been working since I was nine. My first job was cleaning houses. I saved. Did without.
Got a college degree.
That was my doorway to a different life, a doorway I went through. I then tried to shut the door on my past. I was like Scarlett O’Hara, swearing, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.” I didn’t want to remember my past because those memories are painful ones.
I now have three degrees, including a Ph.D. in literature. I’ve spent the last 20 years living in what some people refer to as “the ivory tower-” a place where you’re protected, isolated, and clueless about reality. And it is. Professors tend to associate with those who have similar degrees—not the blue collar crowd. At a party once, one of my co-workers asked my husband, “what do you two talk about”? You see, John only has a B.A. It’s a B.A. from Yale University, but my co-worker didn’t see that as an equivalent. And college professors are supposed to be so wrapped up in their work that they only talk about academic issues. We also tend to have a limited scope of conversation material—usually our academic specialty. I will admit that the cause of that problem is largely a time issue. We teach, then come home and prep for the next day’s class. We have to re-read the material. Moby Dick is not the newspaper, so we might be uniformed about some issues, and reading the latest bestseller is a retirement dream.
Now this generalization doesn’t apply to all professors, so hold the nasty comments.
We are also part of an ivory tower that protects us from job termination, a perk that the vast majority of our society doesn’t get to enjoy. Before becoming a professor, I was fired or laid off four times, once when I was pregnant and not very marketable. Most of the population fears losing their job. That’s reality—but not mine.
I must admit, after losing my job multiple times, I did enjoy tenure, and although I know it will probably go away some day, it does allow us to try more daring approaches to teaching and we can be less concerned about offending a student and poor evaluations that might prevent us from getting tenure. With tenure, a professor can instead focus on trying to teach important concepts. We also want to teach our students to be independent thinkers, and some students resist a hands-off approach, which results in a poor evaluation.
My ivory tower life did not allow me to mingle with people from all walks of life. Thankfully, my church family did. But I still knew that I was not fully in touch with reality.
Since we left Ohio to go out on the road, I have met all types of people, from all walks of life. They have different interests, different problems, and different stories. It’s been a blessing to be allowed to listen.
We have stayed in state parks, community parks, private campgrounds, BLM land, and in parking lots. This variety allows us to meet fascinating people. We also get the opportunity to help. John’s large collection of tools has come in handy. Last night he helped a fellow camper remove some branches so he could back up his trailer. We’re in a community campground right now, so we are allowed to do a bit of clearing. And the spot ultimately looks neater.
John and I are looking for our purpose. It’s part of our journey. We are now officially members of Nomads. It’s a group of RVers who tackle projects at religious-affiliated sites. We spend three weeks on a job, working six hour days for four days a week. We are also joining other groups, such as Sowers. If you are interested in either group, please go check out their websites.
I am teaching an Introduction to Literature class online this summer. When that is finished, I’m officially retired. It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss my students more than any other aspect of the job, and I can’t really call it a job. It was a pleasure.
I used to tell my students that if all they were doing was going through life sucking up other people’s share of the available oxygen, then they needed to find a way to be useful. John and I are taking my advice. We want to be useful.
I hope you’ll follow along with us as we share our growing awareness. Encouragement and prayers are always welcomed.