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Brookhaven College employee newsletter: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reading: The App for Life

Reading: The App for Life

Through this monthly feature, the QEP committee invites employees to write editorials and share their thoughts, tips and reflections on all aspects of reading.

This month, Thomas Anderson reflects on life experiences that stemmed from reading.

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“Thanks Be to Reading”
Editorial by Thomas Anderson, assistant to the vice president of instruction, Office of Academic Affairs and Student Success

Having penned a few words over the years – articles, essays, ten years worth of sermons – it was not until I was invited to contribute to this Chatter series related to the college’s QEP that I would reflect upon and write about the impact of reading in my life. So, writing about reading . . .

In the beginning, as far as I can recall, reading helped open my imagination to explore life’s possibilities soon after I encountered the world of Dick, Jane and Spot in my first-grade reader at St. Mary’s School. (At least I think the dog’s name was Spot.)

Since then and through the years, it has been my experience that reading can be divided into two basic categories: interesting and boring. I prefer the interesting, naturally, by which I mean the material that I happen to find interesting for whatever reason. But I can usually endure the boring, too, if necessary.

This is not to disparage the boring, however, as boring reading can be essential for avoiding life’s dangers: instructions not to drink the contents of the Clorox bottle or not to use a hot iron to iron a garment you happen to be wearing. Boring reading also can include reading that is necessary to navigate life’s challenges, such as some (or much or maybe most) required reading for school. I know I suffered encounters with such wondrous phenomena as the novels of Henry James – accompanied with much dense and gaseous literary criticism - in one graduate school semester and, a bit later, translations of fourth-century Greek theological treatises – definitely dense, but not gaseous. All high quality stuff, but not the sort of things I could truly appreciate and savor back then. What I have discovered since, though, is that these and other similar encounters and struggles did lead eventually to good effects in different and surprising ways later in life, and for that I am thankful. I suppose these were instances of grace delayed.

The moral of this is to take your required boring reading medicine as it is given to you. You may not like it, but it may very well be of benefit and even enrichment to you – if not immediately, then someday.

And then there is interesting reading, the kind I prefer. It’s the reading that has engaged and motivated me at pivotal times to follow some paths that have made life oftentimes interesting and at times regrettable, yet somehow satisfying overall.

Here is a brief – not dense, but perhaps somewhat gaseous - example of what I mean.

Take two consuming interests that were informed by my reading: religion and travel. The first of these interests led to a divinity degree. Subsequently I worked in a church. Dreadfully unhappy, I pitched it all after ten years. So I thought I would move to Europe.

That move came about because I had been reading about developments over there (circa 1993) and thought I would like to be part of all this and that if I did not do this, I would regret it. So away I went and taught English in Warsaw for two years, taking opportunities as I could to pursue this second interest and travel around and absorb for myself - instead of just through reading - the history and art and cultures. And I can say that I’m glad I did and that I really would have regretted it if I hadn’t.

But life abroad was not all fun. It was real life with all of its changes and chances, including a week’s stay in a Soviet-era hospital with a lab that looked like a stage set out of an old Frankenstein movie. But they got me cured and I lived to write about it.

Eventually it was time to return to the United States. Seemingly serendipitously, a friend from seminary days phoned me in Warsaw and invited me to come to Dallas and get my Upstate New York-self resettled. I thought: why not? So I did. And now here I am, doing what I do, and I realize that is a mystery to some here at the college. Yet I’m thankful for all this. I suppose this is an instance of grace bestowed – through and after some struggle.

The moral of this editorial is to be careful and circumspect about what you enjoy reading. It may lead you down new and uncharted paths, and it might have some startling or unexpected results.

So thanks to Sister Germaine, my first grade teacher at St. Mary’s, for introducing me to the world of Dick and Jane, teaching me the fundamentals of reading, and setting me up for a lifetime of exploration down many paths: paths of learning, inquiry, adventure, misadventure, and - at least a few times, I hope – wisdom and grace. I know Sister would have been especially interested in the last item on this list.

And yes, I still read religion. I just finished Pope Benedict’s third installment in his series Jesus of Nazareth. And I still explore corners of the world every once in a while.

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If you are interested in submitting an editorial for this monthly feature, please contact Anna Masters, QEP committee chair.