Tuesday, 23 September 2008

John Stuart Mill

I am reading Kwame Anthony Appiah's Ethics of Identity. Appiah is a philosopher here exploring the relationship between individuality and ethics. Particularly, he has evoked the topic of "ethical flourishing," defining that as, in my paraphrase, living the best life one can lead.

His whole first chapter is on John Stuart Mill. There's a quote of of Mill's which I must duplicate here. This was written in a letter to his friend, David Barclay:

"'There is only one plain rule of life eternally binding...try thyself unweariedly till thou findest the highest thing thou art capable of doing, faculties and outward circumstances being both duly considered, and then DO IT.'"

How can I expound on this without taking away from it? I believe it stands on its own...


September marks our one-year anniversary in Edinburgh—one-year away from home, one-year into my PhD, and, for Chad, one-year sabbatical (of sorts) from vocational ministry. The actual date when we arrived in Scotland last year was September fifth. Why is this coming nearer to October? Since the beginning of this month, I have been wracking my brain in reflection, only to find that sometimes brains don’t work like mirrors, or photographs, or whatever functional image reflection is intended to suggest! Sometimes they're too submerged in the soil of the present moment, like a seed or like youthfulness. I’ve been pondering and praying about what I’ve learned this past year, how I’ve changed, and what lies ahead in our time here. I intended to produce something firm—like a list—but, alas, at this stage, that proved an impossible task. I’m too embedded in the present-ness of this all to see clearly enough. Some argue that memory is always unreliably faulty. I would say that it is often far more helpful for perspective than the now.

Take heart, though. All is not lost! For there are yet things to be said in this commemorative month. For one, I am hopeful. While hope may not be one of the nine fruits of the Spirit, its sweetness in my life now is only attributable to the fruit of God’s continued nurturing of me through his Spirit and my loved ones. Last year was dominated by homesickness for me. What is homesickness but a sense of loss? A sense of being separated. Of being in a place that doesn’t fit quite right, like borrowing shoes that are too big, and so one is constantly reminded that they are not yours. This is a feeling far from hope. Of course, there were moments when hope came bursting through the slate gray that characterizes Britain's sky…most of the year (just read the recent articles on the Vitamin D deficiency in people here due to lack of sunshine! http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article4753513.ece). You all will remember the, how can I describe it but an altar-building, moment when I came home from Christmas, contemplating throwing in the towel, only to find a letter at my flat awarding me a scholarship which covered the rest of my tuition? That generated some hope.

Skype, that many-splendored thing, gave me moments of peace, if not hope, in the midst of my separation-anxiety. In contrast, my precious grandmother, “Namaw,” has described to me the years they spent in Germany when my Grandfather was in the Navy and my dad and aunt were in their early teens. I imagine the distance from home and family was more severely experienced without today’s instantaneous and affordable access to those back home through email and Skype. Though I’ve realized that any kind of writing to people back home temporarily collapses distance – words taking on the power to defy space – because when I write to someone, when my thoughts are completely focused on him or her, I feel like we are together. I imagine my grandmother wrote many letters on her typewriter.

I have more hope in the goodness of people because of a person. I've learned my husband has a heart of gold. Of course, I already knew this, but I know it now in a more profound and further experienced way since being here. You all know that in some ways, being here is a sacrifice for him. I need only mention the word Starbucks! Yes, he loves this city. Who wouldn’t? Yes, he loves being in this culture, which has offered both of us such a different perspective. (This is a highly educated, actively secularized, densely international place.) He loves being around so many students at work, where he gets to exercise all of this philosophy and theology, apologetics, he is learning in his schooling. Being out of vocational ministry also affects one’s personal relationship with Jesus. Let’s describe it as analogous to going camping- getting back to our roots. It’s been good for him and us in numerous ways. Still, he works at Starbucks full-time. Not something he had aspired to as a young lad (thought I'd throw in some Scottish for ya'll Texans). But he has never—not once—complained about it, something I don't think he could say of me if the tables were turned. I would have been complaining, clamorously. Instead, he is my biggest supporter every time we have our routine conversation (always evoked by me) on the topic "what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here-and-why-didn't-I-choose-a-career-that-required-less-school?!@#$." He believes in this more than I do sometimes…and in those moments it keeps me going.

Okay, enough of the mushy stuff already! Looking forward, I am on track to finish in another two years, September 2010. This is very good. Most students take four years, but it is supposed to take three. I only have funding for three. Furthermore, I am making new friends: Ashli, Kirralee, Beth, Kristen. Names attached to featureless faces for you, but know that they are the features of life for me! Also, Chad has recently been moved up to supervisor at the Bucks and has been doing some webpage upkeep for a company that pays him 25 pounds/hour. While work is scarce for the latter, it still pays well, and Chad is learning new skills.

In closing, you may be wondering about how Chad’s family fared during Hurricane Ike. None of their homes were water damaged. There were smaller issues. But all are well. Most are home.