Crawling to the Finish Line

No, I have not been a very impactful, focused scholar.

Thanks to the heavy lifting of my advisors and colleagues, who have carried me every step of the way, I am nearing the end of these eight years of my PhD program. Early in my program, I envisioned myself racing across this finish line, head held high. Instead, I find myself scrambling, crawling. Ashamed I didn’t accomplish more for my years in academia so far. Still struggling with the writing and study, the reviewing and revising, the presenting and attending that should be the schedule of a scholarly life.

The reasons are many and those who know me have heard them plenty, even dutifully repeat them back to me when I confess this embarrassment.

But I hope this last Lenten season has represented a pivot for me, an inflection point, when my halfway presence (“half” is being too generous) as a scholar stops being my apology and starts being my identity. I’ve not earned the grants and won the fellowships. But I’ve been granted chances to struggle beside teachers, to await the end beside my mom, to read to children, to enjoy the fellowship of a spiritual family. I’ve not attended the association meetings and submitted for the conferences. But I hope I’ve associated with the unattended and submitted myself to the inconvenient. I have been a poor colleague and co-researcher, which is what I regret the most. But I have remained richly curious and the glad beneficiary of others’ intellectual fruitfulness.

So stop apologizing, Paul. You didn’t do all the scholar things because you were doing the teacher things, the father things, the son things, the husband things, the follower things, the cultural worker things, the part-of-a-community-of-faith things.

Whatever that means for my academic prospects, I am coming to terms that it matters less to me than doing some good in schools, serving in the niche I can to enrich our literacy and language learning for life, love, and liberation.

I do feel like I’m crawling to the finish line. But it’s a good vantage point from here on the ground, by this dust and these feet.