It takes a certain kind of person – and a certain kind of temperament - to stand in front of a classroom full of students and lecture. A person with a certain sense of themselves – a certainty in their knowledge and a need to share that knowledge with the world. Professors are convinced our insights are necessary to the well-being of the world. We gaze at our reflection in the faces of our students. We are Narcissus, gazing into the pool.
Joseph Epstein, in a fine article entitled Narcissus Leaves the Pool, notes we are in the pool – the classroom, in my case - for a relatively short while and no one ever really wants to exit the pool when the whistle blows. Nonetheless, the time has come for me to exit the pool. I have been teaching at Augustana University for forty-two years. I will be on sabbatical this next year and will retire at the conclusion of that year. I did what I could do, and it is time to let go.
During my years at Augustana I have been embraced and encouraged to teach the courses which gave me life. It has been my honor and privilege to be able, semester after semester, to stand in front of caring students willing to study difficult questions vital to any person of faith.
Many of these questions had to do with the Holocaust. As some of you know, I am convinced the Holocaust presents us with a “novum,” a new revelation about the nature of Man and the nature of God. I urged my students to grapple with this revelation and for the most part they were willing to walk with me. It has been my highest honor and privilege, to teach a Capstone course (Light in the Darkness: Courage and Evil in the 20th Century) for over twenty years with Professors Sandra Looney and Peter Schotten. We taught some of the finest students ever to pass through Augustana’s hallways.
Above all, in my classes, I yearned for my students to learn Jewish people are human and to understand the evils of antisemitism and indifference.
I will miss my students. So many have extended me the courtesy of listening and wrestling with difficult and aggravating theological questions – those questions vital to any person of faith. Thank you.
I will miss my colleagues, particularly in my department who listened to and respected the questions and views I expressed. They are my friends. Our hallway conversations were important and insightful. Thank you.
And now what? I plan to continue writing my blog. I hope to write a book dealing with Elie Wiesel and the problem of God. I will keep on reading books and listening to music to nourish my soul. I will keep on teaching where I can.
Finally, to all of you who took time to listen to me and honored me by taking seriously the questions that gnawed at and continue to gnaw at my soul, thank you. I am a lucky man who, as a young boy, ran away from my family and tradition, returned to that tradition, and was lucky enough to land in a place of caring and grace called Augustana.
I must go. I can hear the whistle blowing. The office and classroom doors are shouting. “Out of the water, Narcissus.”