The Fullness of Time

I'm a mess. Here I am supposed to be thinking about the transformation of the late antique world and the integration of the Germanic kingdoms into Trinitarian Christianity, preaching as a devotional activity in the later Middle Ages, the reforms of the eremitic community at Montserrat in the fifteenth century, family politics in the Holy Roman Empire and the political economy of the Ancien Régime (to name only a few of the things on my teaching and departmental schedule this week), but all I can think about is...dogs. How cute they are. How much I want one. How complicated our lives would become if we were to adopt a puppy. Umm....

That's the problem, really. Do I realistically have time for a dog? I've been so tired this week after coming back from the NAC, it's hard to imagine how I could possibly add yet another responsibility to my schedule. And yet, I can't seem to avoid thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a dog. Did you notice that I managed to go to a tournament and say almost nothing about the experience, other than to show off the new iPod app that I used to keep my scores during pools? Even during the tournament, all I could think about was dogs. Serendipitously, I even got an email from my sister on Sunday right after I had finished Div III pools (outcome more or less identical to my results on Saturday, with a slightly lower indicator) feeding my desire for "puppy porn." Clearly, somebody out there wants me to have a dog (she certainly does!), but is it wise?

If I were less tired (I meant to try to write this post last night, but nothing doing), I might try to diagram what my head looks like right now. Imagine a calendar, say, like the one in your Blackberry. And for every day that there are things to do, you get a little bar showing the time that is filled. Here's my day today:

6:00-6:25a God (aka Centering Prayer).
6:50-7:30a Get ready for school (actually a way of making the Blackberry play a tone to tell me when to stop doing my yoga, but full nevertheless with taking a shower, getting dressed, eating something and getting out the door in time for...)
9:00-10:20a Europe in the Early Middle Ages (my undergraduate/graduate class)
1:30-2:50p Religious Thought (my graduate class)
4:00-4:25p God
6:00-7:15p Yoga (for which, by the by, I have to leave by 5pm in order to get to my club on time)
7:15-10:15p Fencing practice

If you include the time that I typically spend preparing for class (which, thanks to the fact that I gave the students a slightly different kind of assignment for this afternoon, I don't have to do right now), there isn't very much leeway here for, say, walking a dog, playing with a dog, spending any time whatsoever with a dog. I'm imagining bringing my dog to my office and teaching her to stay in a crate while I'm in class. But even then, it would be a hard day for a dog having to be in the crate as much as I have to be out of the office today. I could rearrange my teaching schedule (which I am seriously considering, I want a dog that much), but am I not kidding myself even then? What if I taught my classes on different days, MW and TTh, rather than taking both of them TTh? Would that give me time during the day to play with my puppy? But then there are all of the other things that have to fit into my schedule: EuroCiv Staff meetings, departmental meetings, workshops and office hours. Not to mention committee meetings. Even if the dog spent all day with me, there would still be many times that I would have to leave her alone.

There is, I am convinced, a flaw in this thinking. My sister assures me, "There is space!" But where? Her schedule is just as full, if not fuller, than mine, and yet she has more or less always had dogs. She also has a yard, which we do, too, but not one in which we could leave a dog during the day. Plus, I really want my dog to be a companion, not just a house elf doing nothing for most of her life but waiting for me when I get home. (Which is not to say that this is what my sister's dog does--quite the reverse!--just that it's not what I want my dog to have to do. ) I know that this will take work (one book I'm reading right now says two years to train a puppy to be an obedient companion), which is fine. But I am, after all, also supposed to be, oh, let's see, doing my job during the day, not just training my dog.

I know what this is about in part, other than simply my desire for a dog: I want a life that not only does, but can include a dog. Do you notice there is nothing in my schedule for today about lunch? I'll eat it here at my desk (actually, my other desk) in a moment, so as not to lose any time for preparing for class (well, typically; today I get to write this post, as noted above). Wouldn't it be nice after getting out of class to take a bit of a walk around our beautiful campus, maybe stroll along the Midway among the trees and the flowers? Ha. As if there is time. Maybe I could manage to spend some time visiting with colleagues, have lunch occasionally with someone other than myself. But not today. Not tomorrow either, given that I have those letters of reference to write and papers to grade and need to start reading for next week's classes and really should get a start on that book that I am supposed to review by the end of the month, not to mention preparing the talks that I have been invited to give. Imagine if, every few hours, I had to stop working and just, well, play. Inconceivable. I'd never get anything done.

Last night at liturgy committee, we had a Bible study on the passage from Mark where James and John ask to be given seats at Jesus' left and right hand in his glory, and Jesus rebukes them saying, "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." Our priest asked us, as we listened to the passage, to think about what it seemed to be calling us to do. My head was full of dogs (liturgical dogs!) so it was hard for me to concentrate, but one of my fellow committee members expressed well what has been burdening me for at least the past two or three years, indeed ever since my father died: what exactly am I supposed to be doing with my life, and am I doing it? My friend noted that his father died this past year as well and that since then he has been thinking a lot about whether he is going to accomplish everything that he wants or is called to do. I am now more or less certain that I am not--but what if I am not reading the signs correctly? What if I am actually already doing what I am supposed to do and everything else is just an illusion or, worse, a temptation to fame?

Yes, this does have something to do with dogs: the only real reason I can think of for not getting a dog is fear that I won't have the time that I need ("need") to get my academic work done (witness my inability to think properly about my classes this week). This is not the first time in my life I have been faced with such a decision, of course. I would not have a 13-year-old son right now if I had managed to convince myself fourteen years ago that I did not have time before tenure to deal with having a child--and having made that decision, I might well have discovered after I got tenure (if I still did) that I could no longer have children. Indeed, I make such a decision in a small way every evening when I get in the car to go to yoga and fencing practice rather than staying home to (hypothetically) do some more work. Not only does "work expand to fill the time allowed," it can easily expand to fill your whole life, and then what? No children, no fitness, no thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Just that: work.

I feel guilty because, as an academic, my life is, after all, supposed to be my work. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, aren't I? Shouldn't I be rushing home (or staying in the office until all hours) every day simply in order to be doing more work? Shouldn't I see every moment that I am not thinking about the history of Christianity or Europe in the Middle Ages as time lost, when I could be working if only I weren't doing something so unproductive as, say, blogging or being with friends (not that I have any friends except the ones I hang out with at tournaments)? "Follow your bliss," I believe the phrase goes. As much as I enjoy thinking about the Middle Ages, I enjoy other things, too. I'm not even sure I like the Middle Ages all that much (at least, not more than any other historical period), except for what they enable me to study about Christianity. And being a Christian is more for me than simply an academic exercise; it includes going to church and fencing and being with my family and friends. And, quite possibly, having a dog.

How, after all, do I know what I might or might not learn if I do not allow myself the possibility of having another of God's creatures in my life simply because I am so convinced that the only thing that actually matters is "work"?


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