Friday, September 25, 2015

Vows of Stability in an Unstable Time

Last night, after a long day at work filling in for a colleague who had to miss classes because of jury duty, we met for a happy hour goodbye to a colleague who is moving across the sea.  It was wonderful to see so many people again.

It was also sobering to realize the reason why we don't see each other as much these days--most of us have been laid off from our full-time teaching/administration jobs at our school, and thus, it's harder to schedule an event like yesterday.  Many of us now zoom from part-time job to part-time job, with less lingering time in any one place.  Some of us have gone on to other full-time jobs, which makes it harder to see them.  Those of us left behind are having to do more, and we teach other places too, because we're worried about being laid off.

Yesterday, though, we carved some time out of our busy schedules and came together.  With only 8-15 people at any time during the drop in, it was a small enough group that we could actually talk to each other.  It was a significant enough group so that I hope my colleague felt how much we care about him and wish him well.

In my 20's and 30's, I was the one going away.  Even in my 40's, I was the new kid at my school, and the only reason people left was because they'd been there 30 years, and it was time to retire.  Now, every quarter seems to bring a fresh round of people leaving, and not because they want to. 

The other day I saw a colleague's jug of tea sitting on the window sill; she makes sun tea once a week.  I think of all the colleagues who are no longer with us, all of their coffee mugs, all of the lunches we've shared and happy hours and celebrations and sorrows.

Earlier workplaces didn't have to deal with the turnover question.  People got a job, and if it worked out, they were likely to stay for a long time.  No longer.

In some ways, the teaching life has always been this way:  students come, and students go.  But once, colleagues stayed longer.

I think of monastics who take a vow of stability--they vow to stay in their monastery for the rest of their lives.  But I also think of Mepkin Abbey.  I've been going there regularly for over 10 years, and even the vow of stability doesn't always keep people rooted.

I think of the Pope's reference to Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  Dorothy Day founded intentional communities with her Catholic Worker houses, and Thomas Merton took part in a much older tradition.

What would an intentional community look like in these unstable times?

In the meantime, I try to stay grounded, even as my work community continues to shift.  Maybe intentional communities in the 21st century will be rooted in the human life, not the place.

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