I always feel lost at the end of a semester. For sixteen weeks I have poured out my soul. Where will it go?
Sometimes, often, I wish that the story I had to tell were more positive. Unfortunately the sciences are compelled to tell stories where there is little room for error. After all is said and done the production function persists: MPL = ΔQ/ΔL or ΔK. We could wish that this were not true — that the marginal product of labor did not equal the change in quantity of some good over the change in the quantity of labor (or capital) required to compose that quantity of goods. We are driven inexorably toward increasing the marginal product of labor.
One of the things we can learn at university is that this has not always been so; and that it need not be so. Rather than making more with less; we could instead be making less with more. We could be attending to the constraints imposed by Creation. How do we honor these constraints? How do we learn to value them?
While preparing dinner tonight I observed — as I have observed for almost eighteen years — a woman, slightly older than I am, tending the garden of the house across from mine. Although spright and lean, she does not conceal her years. She climbs her ladder proudly, but carefully. But it is her attention to the hedges that attracts me. She seems to focus on each branch, on each leaf. The product is astonishingly beautiful. Our neighbor’s, Sarah’s, garden is not the only one she maintains. I see her around and about. But for eighteen years I have seen her dutifully, but elegantly, mount her ladder and apply her clippers. She is maintaining a garden.
Though I cannot imagine how, it must support her. But then I think about my own work. I imagine some graduate student or tenured professor peering over my shoulder, marveling at the attention I give my students and their science. This garden is absolutely important, central, critical to everything we do. I am sure that tenured faculty and aspiring graduate students marvel at this work. “Why does he do it?” “Why at these modest wages and precarious future does he bother?” “Why does he publish? Why does he persist?”
In some weird, convoluted way, I then recognize that I am the master of this field, its true connoisseur, admiring its roots, soil and branches. Next to me, there are others who work in this field. They do good work. I mount my ladder with dignity and poise, my age showing, and I teach.