Today the students had their first chance to show their quality after I once again started things off by pushing everyone into the deep end with Theology as Knowledge: A Symposium, the (as yet) too-difficult article I experimented with having my Intro students read last year. I was incredibly satisfied today. The students threw themselves into discussion with a minimum of hesitation and very little shepherding need from me, freely working with the text, and some of them already even being daring enough to engage it from their own perspectives in public, believers and non-, Catholics and others. It's particularly difficult to get such large sections to engage in discussion without it boiling down to a core of natural talkers and debaters. So I was pleased to get about half of the class in each section already willing to talk. It bodes well for the rest of the semester, especially since I want to do a fairly improbable balancing act: I need to try to devote the majority of time to the dissertation and a minimum of time to the students and the courses, and yet I also don't want to settle for the 4.6 and 4.8/5 evaluations from the last semester, but like Jen encouraged, to not call that "good enough," and to keep pushing for a higher performance from myself.
The chaos of the freshmen moving in across the street was not quite as flashback-provoking as the first time I witnessed it from The Ledge, but it was a bit more melancholy this year. I kept wondering if it could really be that long that I first heard these names? Jeff Peters, my poor first-year roommate, Amy Gillespie, Lynda Roden, Alicia Berry, Beth Bonne, Ron Mills, Michael O'Connor, Brad and Chris Houtakker, David King, Jason Price, and, for me, the swift but incredibly-influential freshman friendship of David Peterson. And off the floor, Drew Parlee, David Paul, Ron Ziolkowski, and by the end of the year, Karen Coburn. And it wasn't until the next year that I would start meeting my real inner circle for the first time. Just another one of my yesterdays.
There are fewer familiar faces on campus. I ran into Meg in-between bars the other night: she's back in town for good now, and will be settling in over in Riverwest, so, like Jules, she's at least nearby. Sara VanDenHeuvel pulled over and hailed me the other day from where she was packed into the corner of her car, taking a load over to Madison, where she's starting grad school in one of the country's best speech pathology programs. She was glowing with excitement, and so it was fun to see and to briefly celebrate the moment with her. I'm already forgetting the names of former students here who say howdy to me on campus, but I had a few conversations with a couple of standouts: David Kruse stopped in during my office hours to talk summers and theology and study-abroad plans, and his equally-cool roommate Ryan McCauley grabbed me for some talk today on the sidewalk. I gave quick nods or greetings to Erin Fitzpatrick and Jessica Wagener today as well. And Arthur Orville moved into the building the other day and promised to be harassing. The big surprise was running into Markus yesterday: he's here weeks early, having altered his schedule, and looks fabulous. He's learned to take much greater care of himself since his heart incident last year, and his German medical treatment seemed a fantastically-integrated medical/psychological approach that's been richly healing for him. He said he understood so much more of what I went through in 2004-05, and got more of where I was coming from in my attitude and pacing toward all our work, so that was a cool moment of mutual understanding, and I was so happy for how much more he is talking about just enjoying his life – enjoying his living. We will be off for drinks and great food soon: he may not be able to eat quite so recklessly, but it's still a great advantage of mine to know one of Germany's greatest food critics, when he isn't disguised as a Luther scholar. Even in casual talk, he gave me great ideas for the dissertation.
It's just overwhelming to think of the sheer names that your life intersects with, much less trying to really get to know a handful of these people. When I really think about it, it's like wandering unwittingly into a pantheon: it's too much for me to believe one life could be this rich in friends, acquaintances, and passing conversations.