I have been retired now for several weeks. It was not my choice, but the decision of other people who did not value what I did as a seminary professor and dean. I take slight consolation in the fact that some were afraid of what I did and had to make sure it stopped. I had no idea my work was dangerous. Perhaps any work of value has some danger in it.
My 37-year career of preparing people for ministry has ended. It’s a strange place to be: to just stop doing what I’ve done for so long. The task of a lifetime is put on the shelf. I feel like something is being wasted. Yet it occurs to me that such a feeling comes to everyone who retires: skills left aside, knowledge no longer needed. You just stop.
Remembering what I was privileged to do brings gratitude: recalling the ideas shared, the book written, the students taught. They have been gifts, deeply satisfying gifts, as we experienced the sacred space of discovery, of learning together.
Remembering also renders sadness at loosing the gift of students to teach semester by semester. Of course, I find consolation in graduates who go on to live out the things we learned together; they are a satisfying legacy. But I still feel the weight of wastefulness.
Every fall the oaks in our yard produce acorns. Not a few, but thousands of them fall to the ground. Many land on the concrete driveway, only to wind up in the drainage ditch. Some get caught in the mower. The brown squirrels ecstatically collect all they can—feasting, hiding, burying.
In the spring scores of tiny oak trees appear in the yard and flower pots. I fear them growing too close to the house, too near one another — too many oakly beginnings. So I pluck them up, mow them down; into the dumpster they go.
Occasionally I’ve tried to nurture a sapling oak in a pot, feeling like I could surely find a transplanted home for it somewhere in the country if it happens to take off. I hate to see all the acorns wasted; trees are not plentiful where I live. But every time the sapling I tend in a pot dies in the summer heat. Too much water? Too much sun? Not enough?
I am not in charge of the oaks or their offspring. And perhaps the oaks are not in charge either. Maybe even they are surprised where their acorns wind up, satisfied in the knowledge that with so many tree seeds, scattered with such random generosity, some will find the soil they need. Evading the mower, the drain, the squirrels—some will find root and do what they are made to do.
Perhaps what might seem to be the weight of wastefulness has within it unstoppable life.