Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I'm off to Dallas for the annual meeting of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies. This has long been one of my favorite meetings, full of bright and friendly people, compact and easily navigable.
My pleasure in it is partly diminished and partly enhanced by my office as secretary-treasurer of one of the commission's constituent organizations, the American Academy of Religion Southwest Region. That position requires me to coordinate with the secretary-treasurer of the commission (always a pleasure) and oversee the ever-rotating executive officers of my organization. I arrange for the plenary speaker and wrangle the business meeting.
These duties can be nerve-wracking, minimal as they are compared to what my counterpart on the commission does. (Heaven save me from any office where I have to negotiate contracts with hotels.) Some of my enjoyment of the meeting is sapped away by having to cluck over the details, which keeps me away from the sessions where interesting papers are read and lively discussions of intellectual points are had.
But on the other hand, I'm always attracted to positions of responsibility, because it's so rewarding to make things happen. As nice as it is to be a tourist, it's a whole different pleasure to be a guide -- or a host. I received one of the most astounding compliments of my professional life this past week from a senior scholar I contacted about a nomination to the organization's executive line. He wrote that he'd always admired my grace interacting with others (and quoted Twelfth Night into the bargain).
Now that's a quality I've never thought I'd be able to brag about. Given the friction of my interactions with some of my colleagues here, I'm not sure it's one that some would ever consider ascribing to me. Yet from this man -- who is the very definition of generosity and graciousness -- it means the world. Maybe as I fumble through these obligations and responsibilities, I am not destined to alienate everyone. Maybe for some, my way of proceeding actually makes their experiences smoother, their lives momentarily better. That would certainly be worth the effort.