“Professor?” While not technically correct, I was surprised and not unpleased to hear the title yesterday while on the streets of Easton. One of the greatest compliments a former teacher can receive is word from a former student. While dressed in Saturday clothes on the way to the country’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s market, I wasn’t sure the voice intended was for me. I’ve been out of the classroom now since 2011. Sure enough, one of my students from Rutgers recognized me and called out. We had an ersatz but wonderful conversation after a completely chance meeting. Already since graduating he’s had a few different jobs, but he remembered the classes I’d taught and I recalled that he’s the person who started me reading Neil Gaiman. Teaching is, you see, a two-way street.
I’m doing a guest service at a local church next Sunday. In preparation I’ve had lots of emails (for me). One of them was from the music director. He opened by calling me “Reverend.” I’ve never been a reverend. The idea isn’t unappealing but I’ve gone pretty far down the path of independent thinking and any church that would ordain such as me would need to be comfortable with that. In fact, I heard a sermon recently by an Episcopal priest and was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and, dare I say, liberal it was. I was never really welcome in that club, I know. When I was still fairly fresh out of seminary and working on my doctorate the idea of being “Rev. Dr.” was still appealing. Now I go by my first name.
Labels. I tend to eschew them. Like my young colleague I’ve had to learn that work doesn’t necessarily define you. (I’ve had many employers, however, who not only beg, but insist to differ on that point. The ideas of owning individuals die hard, apparently.) On the weekend, though, off the clock, people are calling me “professor” and “reverend.” I’m generally sitting in a corner with my laptop on those early mornings calling myself a “writer.” For none of these things do I receive any pay. (Well, perhaps some for writing, but very little and very infrequently.) The move to our new location was a chance, I think, to try to remake myself. A chance to figure out what labels, if any, really fit. Better throw “telecommuter” and “remote worker” into the mix. Those are the ones, come Monday morning, that matter most.