“He has also set eternity in the human heart,” old Ecclesiastes lamented at the end of the most famous passage in his book, noting that it is nevertheless impossible to conceive. We mark the passing of time in centuries. I suppose we like a good round number, but it is also a convenient frame since few of us make it much beyond the century post, so we can keep it in our eye as a reminder of how long we might have left. Life has held more fear for me than death, so I approached and passed my fiftieth birthday without much anxiety. When it comes to others, however, the caviler perspective soon fades. Centuries are important. And so are halves. And so are quarters. At twenty-five the world stretches endlessly before you. But to what have we really committed to twenty-five years? How much have we changed in that time? Today is my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The “silver” anniversary they call it. Although I’m not much of a Hallmark kind of guy, the fact that one woman has put up with me for a quarter century continues to amaze me, and we had made plans for a grand celebration. Then Routledge slashed my job. Fortunately, Oxford University Press came to the rescue.
Ah, but with provisional requisites. You see, I had saved a week’s worth of vacation so that I might spend my anniversary at home (or on a little trip) with my wife. Publishers do not get the week between Christmas and New Years’ off. While our academic counterparts are sleeping late and spending time with their families, we’re rising early, commuting into the City, and sending emails that won’t been seen for a few weeks at least. Business rules. Routledge took away my accumulated vacation days, carefully squirreled away during the long year, and since I’m a new hire at Oxford, I haven’t earned any vacation yet. Twenty-five years, and I can’t even give my wife a day. Silver in a world defined by gold. It’s not easy being married to me.
I began work at age 14. With a single exception I have never quit a job. I am a very hard worker and I have never had a performance review that did not say as much. Since Nashotah House set about ending my academic career, I have suffered through three dismissals, all following very positive reviews. You may be forty, forty-five, or fifty, but you are starting over again. Bottom of the pay scale, bottom of vacation days earned. Child in college and eternity in your heart, you have to watch those pennies and be to the office on time. Nobody’s stopping you from going to a nice restaurant (as long as it’s not too expensive), but the bus will drop you off about 7 p.m. and you’d better be asleep two hours after that so that you’re not groggy at work the next day. My old friend, Ecclesiastes, you are wiser than your years. And Kay, thanks for an amazing quarter century. I know of nobody else who would’ve put up with it.