You can't say that the end of summer sneaked up on me. I've had an eye on the calendar ever since the beginning of July, when I came home from my second research trip and took stock of the last half of my sabbatical. The kids bought their school supplies two weeks ago. U-Hauls are stacked up in front of the dorms at my campus across the street, and tomorrow the flood of new first-years will be arriving.
I walked through the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve with Archer and Cady Gray this afternoon, taking advantage of the incredibly cool weather we've had this summer; where normally temperatures would be pushing or exceeding 100 in August, it's in the low 80's at the moment. As I strolled along and listened to them discuss Pokemon and the deer and rabbit tracks they saw on the trail, I was suddenly struck by a contrast. Frequently last year I came to the Nature Reserve in a desperate attempt to de-stress. The knots in my back and shoulders, the uncertainty, the sense of my life being beyond my control -- I returned to this place again and again, searching for an escape.
Today on the eve of the new academic year beginning, I felt no stress. The magic I was looking for, I found in time away from my administrative load, and time spent thinking deeply about theology. Having made the decision to return to full-time teaching and research, I shed my last remaining doubts more quickly than I expected. Almost without my noticing, my future acquired a shape I recognized. The vague vertigo of an escalator carrying me somewhere I didn't want to go -- it was gone, replaced by a confidence that whatever happened next, I could handle it.
It's amazing how that shift has carried over into other parts of my life. The kids are growing up, and there are plenty of things to worry about there. But I've never been so confident that they're well equipped and poised for success. I know they have challenges coming. But when those hurdles aren't added on to obstacles in my own life, they seem far less terrifying.
When I stop to think about it too long, I can find plenty to fret about. I'm a natural at worrying. But one thing that doesn't concern me is whether I've made the right choice. This summer hasn't just changed my career trajectory. It's changed -- or reset -- my definition of doing well. Success doesn't mean more money and more titles and more people to supervise. It means converting a lifetime of the learning I care about into the lessons that give students more power over their pasts, presents, and futures.
I can't wait to get started.