I feel “taken out of context.”
For 21 years, I lived, taught, thought, and worshipped in an intentional intellectual and spiritual community—a small Christian liberal arts college in Massachusetts. In this place, I grew to know myself intellectually, spiritually, politically. I developed treasured friendships.
I raised my family in this community. My children also came to know themselves within this context. Their closest friends were the children of my colleagues. Some of their favorite traditions involved annual college events.
This changed when an administrator, with the blessing of the trustees, decided to eliminate the English major and my department, including those of us who held tenured positions. The high cost of living in this area forced us to move to a different state, to buy a new house, to find new work. For a long time, I only felt a devastating loss. But now, I recognize these changes for what they could be—serendipity.
As a college professor, I often discussed future career plans with my students. One bit of advice I frequently repeated was to let serendipity into the picture.
We can map out the desired course of our careers. We can complete a major, comb through internet list-serves of open positions, and pump out cover letters and resumes. We can interview and accept positions. In the process, however, we should also pay attention to unimagined possibilities and opportunities that excite us and give them a try.
At this moment in my life, serendipity is a function of evolution. Being “taken out of context” refers to a change of environment. According to the principle of evolution, the friction between an organism and its environment results in changes to that organism. Organisms that adapt most effectively to the environment thrive and reproduce.
Thinking about the feeling of “being taken out of context” in relation to the theory of evolution has helped me recognize these changes in my life as opportunities to ride the wave of serendipity into the future. Considering this relationship has helped me move beyond my grieving into a new phase of reflecting upon the differences between my current and former contexts and identifying how this new environment can help myself, my family, my children to for thrive in previously unimagined ways.
I still feel loss when I think about the community that rejected me, the community that I left behind. I miss the rhythm of our life there. I miss the recognition I found in the faces of my students. I miss finding the seat my colleagues saved for me in the cafeteria. I miss the office that made available all the tools of my profession. I miss the satisfaction of my work. I miss my pastor and my church.
But now I am moving forward, and the excitement grows within me as I keep my eye out for opportunity—for serendipity.
I don’t know where it will carry me—us. But I will let you know when we get there so you can visit.