Being stopped by a former student, a guy I had as a giggly freshman who is now a grim-faced Pre-Law senior, who I hadn't spoken to in those in-between years, who came up to me as I was walking to class and told me that I was the best teacher he'd had at Marquette, for love of the subject and love of the students. I know there's always a matter of taste in such things regarding students, but I was still floored by the generosity in saying that to me. After class that day, one of my new students, a Naval ROTC freshman taking the Marines option, wanted to hear my thoughts on Christianity and participation in military service, because my opinion meant a great deal to him, which I hardly expected to hear three weeks into my course. It blows me away, sometimes, to hear that I can make an impact on someone like that, even if they only recognize it later. This balances out for the people I call on in class by surprise, instead of discussing with those volunteering to talk, and see that strange look, both startled and dazed, of the person whose feigned attention has just been broken into, and who has inadvertently revealed that they were paying no attention to the class whatsoever.
I had the fun surprise of running into Meg at the train station on my way to Chicago, and sitting near her and a pair of her friends on the way south, which gave us a little chance to catch up. Because of all the work, I've been utterly invisible to all friends other than the gang right in front of me from school. I especially owed Meg and Diane a ton of back social time, and so now Diane especially, since I got this spontaneous chance to see Meg.
Another awesome Friday night with the gang and special guest star Markus. It was interesting to hear the conversation go out of my depth for a few hours as everyone talked cooking and recipes. Mike, Dan and Amy are all enthusiastic and skillful chefs enough that just talking the combinations of ingredients, they are able to put together tastes (at least at some level) in their imaginations. Donna and I laughed about how that just didn't work with us, as the talk of various dishes swirled and built mostly among the other four. Along with conversation that built on his talent as a chef and as one of Germany's most well-known food critics, we talked quite a bit more about Markus's life back in Germany, both family stories and the different kind of teaching and research responsibilities that he is currently engaged in, as he now is one of the top two or three scholars of Martin Luther and his era. The nine million Euro grant for the research program he's just put together on the 16th century is a project that will be going on for the next eighteen years we found out, and so we were trying to wrap our minds around something like that, which would take him through to retirement. Along with imagining that for him, we also tried to imagine being one of the Ph.D. students he now has money to fund, who – in their doctoral program and beyond – would also be part of that eighteen year commitment. That makes more sense in the German higher education schema, where you might be a teacher or a researcher, and these two roles didn't necessarily cross paths, but it seemed epic and a bit harsh to us who love teaching. After nine hours of food and conversation (and eight bottles of wine), we called it a night at 2am.
Saturday featured quite a bit of unexpected fun as I went with Dan to help him buy his early birthday present from Amy: a beginner's guitar kit. I've been taking my guitar over of late, starting to teach him some chords and such, and so it was a bit of a sentimental flashback to Notre Dame 1996 for me, of Mark giving me a first three-chord guitar lesson, and then starting to pick up more from Erik, weaklingrecords, and J.P. over the next year, in the most haphazard guitar education ever, as I worked for the Freeks. So I went back to Dan and Amy's place with him, unwilling to let him go through stringing his guitar and tuning it alone, as that could be a bit hair-raising and confusing for a first-timer. Then, over pasta and the tomato sauce they were canning (which Anna and Owen proudly assured me that they had helped with) and more of a yummy salad of Amy's from the night before that I had quite liked, there were lots of little music stories, mini-lessons, and "how-does-this-work" moments. After the kids were put down, the three of us continued talking mostly music and such, and I shared more stories than I probably ever have of my own little music lessons and education with the band, as well as about the Notre Dame equivalent of Dan and Amy's place as the social center of our Marquette world: the musical and spiritual whirl of Friday nights at Scott and Karen Kirner's place back in those turn-of-the-millennium years. It's fun to see a little bit of that musical side of things starting to come out here, too.
Just putting together my paperwork for applications has been illuminating: to see inhow much has changed in this last year. My research for the dissertation has become concrete and brimming with further possibilities in ways my imagination couldn't foresee a year ago. The early sketches for a continuing research agenda with this material that I began discussing with Professor Fahey in Boston has got me excited in ways that make me want to turn several pages ahead in my life story just so I can get to that. What I had to do with the doctoral education is simply feeling more and more finished, which I don't think I had ever sensed in quite that way before. It reminds me of finishing my M.A. and starting to teach, in that getting the Ph.D. in Theology is really just a beginning – to begin to be a professor of this material, and to grow into what I have staked out for my work. It's tough to describe exactly: it's like the feeling of excitement in seeing the image in a puzzle starting to become apparent as enough of the pieces fall into place, and, even though you have been doing the work yourself the whole time, you start to perceive other dimensions to what you've been doing.