Michael Wurtz (Five guys on the "do-it-yourself" retreat and three of us are named "Michael") is flying in in the afternoon, and I'm not sure when Scott is expected. Along with dinner at Nani's tomorrow night (they're on a Venetian menu this month), we're apparently going to take in part of Paulie's baseball game before heading north to the cabin until Monday morning.
It has been beyond fabulous to be able to start to freely socialize again. Other than the weekly dinners with the gang/BSG nights on Friday, I've not seen anyone since early March, before spring break. There was just that much prep and grading hanging over me. So I took an afternoon's stroll with Jessica downtown, around by the lakefront near the Art Museum and then into the Third Ward for dinner over at the Public Market. It was just a good chance to get some uninterrupted talk, mostly swapping autobiography, but it was also interesting for me to here her perspectives on the experience of discovering the study of Theology as something that demands a further integration into one's life – that it's not just a subject, but, properly understood, also a Way. She rightly compared it with the life of ancient Philosophy in that regard. I'm used to hearing this sort of thing as part of discussing one's past among my friends; to hear it from someone who is currently discovering what exactly it means for her was a distinct experience. I brought up the idea that there is a pursuit of wisdom as well as knowledge in this kind of field, and that that wasn't something we were much equipped for as a culture any more, and what its cost might be compared to the pop "spirituality" or "wisdom" marketed in the bookstores today.
The next day, Dan and I had intended to go hear Michael Novak and his daughter Jana speak the other night, but time was running short by the time he was ready to go. He had been trying to kill some horrific weed spread all over his lawn and Amy and I had more-or-less finished dinner with the kids by the time he got in from that. Amy and I had great fun telling one another high school horror stories while he was working, and it just became a quiet evening with the three of us hanging out, with Dan taking an hour to do some other work while Amy and I watched a new Grey's Anatomy. Quiet. Perfect. I took in BSG with the Harrises when the Lloyds took off for New Jersey, and that too was great in getting extended time with just the two of them. For me, it was like winning a prize after the long social darkness of the last two months. I played a lot of phone tag with Diane, but ended up having to make plans for after I return, since we were never able to be quite available at the same time.
And so last night found me wandering the East Side with Julie, after a brief stay at her place, talking with her and Jackie. Soon we were sipping drinks at Alterra and then splitting a sundae at Pizza World while we caught up, talking of her moving plans as she begins her doctorate in the fall at Stony Brook, of dating when you know you're moving shortly, and less weighty things.
I found myself explaining to people that there was a different feel to the end of this semester. Not teaching an Introduction, but instead a mid-level course, I not only had a larger number of majors and minors for the first time, I just found a more mature character to the group of students as a whole. While there were definitely people there who were only there for their second THEO requirement and who remained invulnerably checked out through the whole semester, I couldn't help but notice a different feel by the conclusion. The most emblematic image of this came from the number of guys who came up to me at different points in these last days and shook my hand, thanking me for the course. I had never received handshakes from students before, and I was kind of struck by the ritual or symbolism of it. It was my male students, who made up less than a third of the two courses, who did this. That I had apparently earned some distinct form of respect just struck me in a new way, as I said. I'm really just spilling words here trying to describe something I don't really understand – if there is anything to understand. Yet it created a different mood or ambiance at the end of the semester – a positive one, and one for which I was, in turn, equally grateful to my students.