My very good friend Hilary Sherratt and I took up a practice about a year ago to write each other each week. On Tuesdays I post a letter to Hilary here and she responds to it over at her space on Thursdays. We are our raw, honest selves here in front of you, as we would be in the messages we send back and forth in private. See previous letters in the series here. Dear Hilary,
I've been thinking a lot lately about the after.
Starting St. Andrews means nearly every conversation I have upon meeting someone new leads into questions about what I hope to be doing after.
At first, I told them the essential answer: I have applied to both Duke and HBU to pursue a second masters and I intend one of those schools as my next step. More school. Two years.
(This buffered me from having to directly answer the question I had not yet been quite ready to answer myself: would I get a PhD.)
I have been rolling that around for the past few months, with greater frequency in the past few weeks. I have stretched it, pulled it, placed it far away and brought it close. Invariably, the wondering turns to a question of the will of God, of walking in the way of grace, and the old habits arise--the petty fears of making a choice that could dishonour God, even when it's made in good faith.
I walk the paths here in silence and breathe in deep the ancient stories. I sit in the ruins of St. Mary's, read the gravestones marking lives I shall never know. I am caught at once in the immediacy of this season and at once the pending immediacy of the next, which is only ten months away. In ten months I must pack again, must move again, must make life again.
And somewhere in that turning, that picking, that stretching, a whispered thing emerged.
The word just is a damnable thing sometimes.
I am just a donor.
I am just a student.
I am just a ventriloquist.
I am just a myriad of important, good, true, beautiful things that are cheapened and lost in our need to qualify ourselves as doing something ordinary.
For the longest time, for longer than I care to admit, I whispered to myself that I may just be an author, just make pies. I did not consider it calling, did not consider it fulfillment, to entertain a world where I did not get a PhD, where I did not have the supporting documents that proved I was knowledgeable.
(Well, I admit, I secretly believed it would indicate I was wise.)
We are called to live beyond just, to see what we may be invited into as abundance, even if it should seem to simple for us to call our own.
I'm reminded of something Nish wrote, perhaps a year ago, about Buddhist monks walking from house to house with an empty bowl, knocking on doors, trusting that whatever was placed in their bowl was more than enough for them. Not only that, whatever was placed in their bowl was what they needed for the day, was what they offered thanks for as abundant. Even if the bowl was left empty.
Beyond just, the bowl can never not be enough.
And I have circled back to the question of the PhD in this. I have returned to the question that had sent me into a kind of quiet panic for weeks.
I don't think I'll get one.
You have to leave space with these things, I know, to let them become what they are to be. God may roll across the waters and compel me toward one. Or not. I must still preface all of this with inclination over decision. But right now, in this season, I don't think it's the route.
But I have a route in mind.
I'll go to Duke or to HBU and then, upon completion, I should like to open a coffee shop and bakery near a university campus where the dialogue of faith and art is unfolding.
Edit: I have a vision for what this looks like. A small version of the cafe Meryl Streep owned in It's Complicated, pictured here.
I'll write books on the side.
I'll pour coffee while people wait for fresh scones and ask whom they've been reading.
I'll have some sort of rule about always feeding the poor.
I'll figure out a way to get each local priest or pastor to come over before the opening and bless the space.
(I'll put a statue of St. Francis somewhere, just not next to a tip jar.)
And other things. A gallery space. A chapel. I have plans.
I shall be an author.
I shall be a baker.
The prayer circles again and again, the desire for faithfulness, the hope of the way of grace.
For a season; I'm not sure how long.
And you know? I think that shall be just enough.