Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Three Questions

So, I'm getting signals that my academic department will not be supporting my request to work part-time (one semester per year).

That means that I've got to face the hard choice (possibly one of the hardest of my life): either continue commuting year round (three nights per week away from the kids essentially since I get home around 9pm on Thursdays) or resign.

As you can probably guess, I'm in a soul-searching mood.

One colleague, in response to my obvious agony over the choice said something to the effect of having worse choices. A friend of his, apparently, had a choice between chemo and another year or two of life-with-pain, and a month or two of life-without-pain.

Thanks for the, ahem, clarification about how difficult this choice is. . . Relatively.

I recognize that this is not life or death. And I recognize that I am privileged to even get to have this choice. But JHC, it is heart-wrenching. What can you say about such sunk costs: 6 years of grad school and 6 years toward tenure? Then, what, nothing? Being an adjunct for a fraction (and I do mean a fraction) of the salary, with no benefits and no security? It's that or Starbucks. Oh, or being an over-involved mom at the school. Now I'm just feeling sorry for myself.

I'm looking everywhere for clues to figure out this life-riddle.

Last night I read the book The Three Questions by Jon Muth (based on the story by Leo Tolstoy)to the kids. I should say kid as Big couldn't focus on it at all.

It's just the kind of book I like. Meaty philosophical questions, references to Russian literature, all in a sort of Eastern, holistic stew.


It starts out like this:

There once was a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. "I want to be a good person," he told his friends. "But I don't always know the best way to do that." Nikolai's friends understood and they wanted to help him. "If only I could find the answers to my three questions," Nikolai continued, "then I would always know what to do. . . ."

His three questions were:

When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? And [w]hat is the right thing to do?

He really nails it, doesn't he?

He wrangles with his friends for a bit, who really don't do much in the way of providing him any real advice at all. So he decides to go to "Leo, the turtle" because "He has lived a very long time. Surely he will know the answers I am looking for."

While visiting the turtle, he offers to dig a hole for the frail reptilian, and while doing so a storm brews and he witnesses an injured Panda and her baby, both of whom he then rescues.

In the end, Nikolai revisits his unanswered questions and is told by the turtle that he had witnessed his answers in his deeds. Had he not acted out of kindness and dug the hole for the turtle, he would not have been there to help the panda.

Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.

This is why we are here.

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