But it gets harder. The courage of children and beasts is a function of innocence. We let our bodies go the way of our fears. A teen-aged boy, king of the world, will spend weeks in front of a mirror perfecting some difficult trick with a lighter, a muscle, a tennis ball, a coin. Why do we lose interest in physical mastery? If I feel like turning cartwheels--and I do--why don't I learn to turn cartwheels, instead of regretting that I never learned as a child? We could all be aerialists like squirrels, divers like seals, we could be purely patient, perfectly fleet, walking on our hands even, if our living or stature required it. We can't even sit straight, or support our weary heads.
What Dillard is talking about here is the loss of innocence. Children think they can do anything. Turn cartwheels. Walk on their hands on a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon. Anything is possible. Mortality and disappointment do not even enter the picture. It's all about faith and belief. That's why children can believe in a giant rabbit hopping all over the world, delivering baskets of chocolate. Believing is seeing. Ask the disciple Thomas about that little lesson.
I used to be a person that was full of optimism. I have taught at the university for close to 25 years as a contingent. In all that time, I always harbored, in the back of my mind, the belief that one day I would be offered a full-time position. Call me innocent or naive or just plain stupid. I like to think that the universe operates fairly, rewarding hard work and talent. That's how things should work.
Tonight, when I tried to use my badge to gain access to the building which houses my university office, I discovered that my badge had been deactivated for some reason. I have never had this happen before. I have always been able to get into my office after hours. I mean, it's my office, for God's sake. I can only assume that the university administration is trying another tactic to erode the confidence of contingent faculty. Some of my contingent colleagues have lost their university e-mails, been kicked out of their offices.
I try not to publicly criticize the university for which I teach. I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of higher education. It's a noble profession. An investment in the future. That is what I have always believed. However, the university president, vice presidents, department heads all have a different vision of academia: higher education as big business, students as consumers, and contingent faculty as glorified fry cooks.
I am sitting in my university office at the moment because some colleague saw me trying to get into the building and opened the door for me. I'm a little pissed, and it takes a lot to piss me off even a little. In the past two years, I have lost two siblings and been kicked out of one job that I held for 17 years. Now, I'm not even trustworthy enough to have access to my own office after the university closes for the night. I may do something dangerously contingent like work on a syllabus or read a novel.
No matter how much I want to believe in a just and fair universe, I am still locked out of my office building. The university administration and department heads still think of me as "temporary" after nearly a quarter decade of teaching. And nothing is going to change until a meteor strikes the planet and causes the extinction of all the tenured dinosaurs.
Saint Marty just had to get that off his chest.