In 1624, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” (www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/meditation17.php) Today I think about how important relationships are—relationships not only to my family, colleagues, and students, but also to my faith community and God.
I grew up in a family that prized learning and truth. My father immigrated to North America in his 20’s with a trunk and $5 because he wanted to go to college, a chance he could not get in his home country, Austria, after World War II. He completed undergraduate school in his 30’s, the first in his family to do so. My mother, a professional pianist, is my first and best human teacher. When my brother and I were small, she stayed home and wrote a book about integrating music, poetry, and visual art in elementary schools. 1970’s publishers rejected her book as too interdisciplinary, but she engaged my curiosity in many fields.
Now as an English professor who directs half of Converse’s honors program, I still value relationships among different pieces of truth. Both my doctoral dissertation on hearing in early modern England and my current research about early modern Englishwomen and religion are interdisciplinary. In addition, for 34 years, I have been married to Peter, a computer scientist who also majored in English, and I love discussing new ideas with him. Together we have four children who teach us new truths. I also love teaching interdisciplinary team-taught honors courses because they help us notice different approaches to truth. A biology professor sees an angle I don’t, and a music professor offers another lens on truth. My students also show me new insights; when I stop learning from my students, it’s time to retire!
All truth, though, comes from God, my family and I have found that John Donne is right in the essay from which I quoted earlier: we need one another, our church, and God. This recognition does not make God a “crutch”; it simply acknowledges human limits. People are meant to live in community; to paraphrase Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for humanity to be alone.” I have learned this truth the hard way. Most of my life I have wrestled with mental health concerns, and I have learned that, besides medication and therapy, taking an active part in a Christian community and depending on God form critical parts of my good health. I’m not unusual here: researchers at Duke and Vanderbilt have learned that church involvement is actually good for people: www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-community/201904/the-health-benefits-congregational-life
Therefore, by grace, I seek daily to return. I try to read the Bible, receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, serve those in need, learn to live justly by reading saints’ biographies, and pray alone and in community. In these and other ways, I long to return to the One Whom Donne describes as “our only security,” our only fixed truth, the triune God.
Singing, reading, knitting, mending and hand-sewing, talking with my husband, walking with our dog, gardening, drawing, drinking milkshakes with my kids
Fantasy dinner guests
Mary Ward, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Henri Nouwen, Margaret Cavendish, Gianna Beretta Molla
Best advice I ever received
Under-promise and over-deliver.
My worst subject in school
Bella; Good Will Hunting; Babette's Feast
Decaf with Bailey's Irish Cream flavoring
My latest accomplishment
Recently submitted for consideration an article on Mary Ward and Latin instruction of girls in early modern Europe; organizing a symposium on justice reform in October 2023 at Converse (Justice Symposium: Crime, Punishment, and Reform).
Early modern Englishwomen and Catholicism; the Reformations in England
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