“Entropy means that everything in the world is in a state of decline and decay …”
- Jane Fonda
My mirror tells me the truth of this universal law, every single day.
But when Jane Fonda spoke these words in a public talk recently, she went further. “There’s only one exception to this universal law,” she added, “and that is the human spirit, which can continue to evolve upwards, bringing us into wholeness, authenticity and wisdom.”
I liked that thought, because it speaks to my own desire to finish this life well, and it touches on my reasons for heading back to school.
And now, it’s official: I’m a student again. I had my orientation (last week), and attended my first class (last night). Both were – in a word – wonderful. Neither event proved to be anything out of the ordinary. It was just being able to participate in them that felt like such a gift.
I arrived at the orientation lunch a half-hour early. The enrollment counsellor – a young woman who helped me through the admission process and who, by now, feels like a friend – invited me to take a seat in the otherwise empty room. So I sat, stared at the blank PowerPoint screen while waiting for others to arrive and surprised myself when, alone in that empty room, my eyes spontaneously filled with tears. When a dream is a dream for a very long time, you run the risk of ceasing to believe that it is also, in fact, a goal that might actually be achievable. And when the dream starts to become real, well, it can all feel a bit surreal. Orientation day definitely held a sense of the surreal for me.
Last night, I drove to Hamilton early to avoid rush hour traffic. Before heading to class, I had dinner out with my mom. It was her treat, she said, a celebration. I loved our time together but found it hard to eat much, I was so filled with anticipation. Mom emailed me this morning. “I was trying to remember what your going back to university was like,” she wrote. “Then I remembered: it was like your first day at kindergarten.
“You were so excited. You had waited so long – watching all your friends toddle off. Because your birthday was in January you had to wait an extra year.”
She remembers that extra year of waiting for school to begin as being a hard one for me. “When your friends departed you were depressed. When you finally got to go to school, you were filled with happiness. You were beaming from ear to ear - while others clung to to the railing, or to their mother’s skirts.
“Mothers are funny creatures. Like a typical woman I felt slightly guilty because you were so happy and independent.”
She needn’t have worried. I wasn’t happy because of what I was walking from – but because of what I was walking towards. It was finally my turn to learn. And now – more than four decades later, after watching my two oldest head off to university, I find to my great joy that it’s my turn to learn once again.
My first course is titled, “Ethics and Character.” I purchased the required text books before Christmas and read them over the holidays. And the rich experience of learning has already begun.
There’s a verse in the Gospel of Matthew I’ve never liked very much. It’s found in chapter 5, verse 48, and quotes Jesus as saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Oh, sure!” my inner cynic responds every time I read that verse. “Easy for you to say!”
But one of my text books, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus In Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee reveals it’s incorrect to assume Jesus is teaching “about idealistic moral perfection.” He’s not calling his followers to an impossible standard at all. The meaning that the word “perfect” is trying to convey is of being complete, whole, all-inclusive or all-embracing.
And those are things I can journey toward with gratitude and confidence.