This was a big weekend. Friday: Twenty-Seventh Wedding Anniversary. Sunday: Ph.D. Graduation…It is PhinisheD, Phor Real! Monday: Baby daughter’s Seventeenth Birthday. Plus, after I put in an all-day staff meeting today, I leave for vacation tomorrow!
You would think that I’d be so pumped that I can barely touch the ground. I have, after all, been waiting to write this post for twenty-two years. I reflected on that history here right after I defended the dissertation last June. All three of these events–anniversary, graduation, and birthday–are note-worthy and I should be thrilled.
But, the geese don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled. I am thrilled beyond belief. Sunday was as close to a perfect day as I’ve ever had. The weather was gorgeous. The service was meaningful. My parents took Lona and me out to dinner to celebrate. Lona and I spent the night at Ticknor Hill to celebrate. Leah joined us at TH for a wonderful breakfast like only Deb Wallace can make to celebrate her birthday. I posted my grad photos on Facebook and hundreds of people liked and commented (that makes it valid, right?) It. Was. Perfect.
But, the geese don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong. I am also grateful. The completion of a Ph.D. Is not a solitary endeavor. It takes a whole gob of people to make this happen. I am so thankful to my wife for encouraging me to do this, especially when I wanted to quit. I am thankful to my family and friends for putting up with me when I would rant theologically about things they never knew, or cared, existed. I am thankful to the church for supporting me–both emotionally and financially–for these past five years. I am thankful to Mary Hess, by thesis advisor, to Craig Van Gelder, my course advisor, to Gary Simpson and Pat Keifert, my readers and mentors, and to the host of mentors that have educated me along the way. I am thankful for the calling that the Triune God gave me to take this path.
But, the geese don’t care.
OK, OK, what’s with the geese? An interesting thing happened during the Deep in the Burbs research project (that was my dissertation, BTW). I had asked the Research Team to imagine projects that they could do for six months that would reflect upon our discussions of the social Trinity and how it impacts spiritual formation in the suburbs. One day, while I was on my regular walk, during the time that the team was discerning their projects, I walked past a gaggle of newly hatched goslings. That led me to reflect upon this odd juxtaposition of ancient patterns happening in the man-made pond next to a Target shopping center. See my reflections on the suburban geese here.
I first began to meditate on my feathered friends two years ago, in the spring of 2014. The little gaggle grew up during the course of the research project. I took pictures and marveled at their development, much like a doting uncle. The cold winds of Winter came and drove them away as the project was concluding. Then, during the cold darkness of Winter, I wrote the dissertation, and rewrote the dissertation, twice. Finally, as I was about to turn in the paper, a new batch of goslings appeared! It was perfect. I took great comfort in the hope that this new batch of life gave to me as I connected it to my project and my life.
Now, it is a year later. I defended the dissertation in June, which means I had to wait eleven months to wear the funky hat, walk across the platform, and get hooded. A couple weeks ago, another batch of goslings appeared from the reeds that surround the pond. I stopped to talk to them. I wondered if the parents were last year’s goslings. I told them about my accomplishments. I thanked them for their inspiration along the way.
They didn’t care. They didn’t “like” my post on Facebook. They didn’t bow to my intellectual prowess.
The Gander hissed at me.
Then I walked away and contemplated further the reality of the geese. The lesson I learned from the geese, originally, was that life happens, despite all of our human efforts to control it. The universe is bigger than the human mind and imagination. God’s creativity and love does not center around the human species. It includes it, to be sure, but it does not depend upon it or exist solely for it.
Now, as I continue to meditate on the geese, the same realization has a different effect on me. Perhaps we could say it does an Ecclesiastes on me. Perhaps the fact that I just celebrated my twenty-seventh wedding anniversary, and my baby girl’s seventeenth birthday, and the man I see in all those Facebook photos is not the wide-eyed idealist that began the journey twenty-two years ago has something to do with it. I don’t think I will go as far as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes and say that all of it is vanity. I will say…
The geese don’t care.
Life moves on. I have a staff meeting today. A co-worker’s father died on the same weekend that I was partying. Next week there will be another birth, another death, and another group of graduates entering into a new phase of life, while another group retires from a life of work.
And it is all good.
I’m glad the geese don’t care. I’m glad they do their life, season after season, regardless of my accomplishments. I am grateful for my accomplishments. I hope that the fruit of this labor will help to enrich the lives of some. I also know it will infuriate and confound others. I cannot live my life measuring its success upon Facebook likes or “atta-boys” or whether the geese acknowledge my recognition of their existence.
I can only be as faithful as possible to the call God has given to me. And, season after season, keep moving into the Promise of God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.
Thanks be to God. “Honk!” Said the goose.