It was one of those gloomy days when even a cup of coffee had no warming effect. Edward and Gretchen were chatting in one of the college’s cafés. Fitting the melancholy tone of the day, Gretchen was morose about Edward’s impending retirement and move to a warmer climate. He had been a mentor to her – guiding her through the various minefields of being a new faculty member. Now she was tenured and becoming the mentor to a bunch of new faces in the department.
After a long silence, Gretchen asked, “Any regrets?”
Edward took a sip from his cup, looked up, and said, “You know, I’ve had my gripes–we get paid too little, and we are disrespected by the media. Besides, nobody reads what we publish. There are too many students; there are too many committees; there are too many people with MBAs trying to tell faculty what to do. But regrets? No, I have no regrets. I feel blessed that for 35 years I’ve been able to wake up each morning and want to get to work.”
Gretchen was a little surprised by this. “Ed, from what you’ve told me, the department was not always a friendly place. You had trouble getting tenure because of factionalism. I feel as though you are ignoring some of the realities of what life has been like here.”
“Ignoring realities? Maybe that is what drove me to become a professor–some pie-in-the-sky image of a life of learning with no distractions. But I’ve come to realize that my students and colleagues are the ‘real’ world. Babies are born; friends die; some administrators are abusive; some are friendly; there’s drama; there’s conflict; there’s even downright scary stuff like threats and violence. Yet, despite all that, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else, much less wanting to do anything else. I guess you could say my childhood hobby became my calling. That’s a blessing, despite everything else that has happened.”
“You have had quite a career,” Gretchen responded.
Edward frowned. “I gave up keeping my c.v. up to date years ago, and gave up counting achievements long before that. It’s not about the accolades, the controversies, the conferences, the grants, or the publications. After each one I realized that pride is a passing sensation, and professional reputations are fleeting and can flip between being admired and being reviled very quickly. It’s about love, not accomplishment. It’s about the love of ideas and the love of sharing those ideas with students and colleagues, and having them share their ideas with me.”
“So how are you going to cope with retirement? I can’t imagine you taking up golf.”
“Oh, there’s a great used bookstore where I’m moving–and maybe the local university will take me on as an adjunct.”
Photo credit: Doug Wheller via Flickr
Kevin Birth is a professor of anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York. He studies cultural concepts of time in relationship to cognition, and has conducted ethnographic research in Trinidad and on the current leap second controversy. His publications and presentations cover a wide ranging array of topics including chronobiology and globalization, comparative calendars, timekeeping in Roman Britain, culture and memory, cognitive neuroscience, early modern clocks, and ideas about roosters in the Middle Ages. He is the author of three books: Any Time is Trinidad Time (University Press of Florida), Bacchanalian Sentiments (Duke University Press), and most recently Objects of Time (Palgrave Macmillan).