Sunday, May 11, 2014

Contentment


Every time I see a cow sticking her head through the fence for the irresistible grass outside the pasture, I think of the saying, “grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.” This aphorism is symptomatic of mankind’s plague of dissatisfaction, born of a deep indefinable restlessness of spirit, ever since we were kicked out of the garden. Remember, the Apostle Paul admonished early Christians to be content with circumstances, for contentment with godliness, he said, is great gain. Paul practiced what he preached and was content with clothing and something to eat.

But we are all infected with the “grass seems greener elsewhere” syndrome, aren’t we? I stayed on the same faculty 20 years, fighting my wanderlust by the rationality that comes from guaranteed security. I was on tenure, meaning I could only be fired for moral turpitude, gross neglect of duty, incompetence, or discontinuance of my department. It was not likely that my college would cancel the English department, so I felt rather secure. But security and contentment are altogether two very different categories.

So, after two decades at the same university, I applied for and received a similar appointment at another institution, almost the twin of the one I was escaping. The grass did, indeed, look greener, but when I had been in my new situation for a couple of months and the “new” wore off, I saw that the grass had the same bland hue. After three years of “same-old-same-old,” I started searching the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education for yet another pasture. Sticking my head as far as I could through the fence, I spotted a patch of luscious grass down in south Florida. I applied for a deanship down there and they called me for an interview.

The way the search committee chairman was supposed to spot me as I got off the airplane was as follows, in his words by telephone. “Dr. Ford, I will meet your flight at the airport here. Since I have no idea what you look like, carry in front of you the copy of our college catalogue which we sent you.” So, when I got off the great big airplane, I had my carry-on in one hand and the catalogue held in front of me, plainly visible. Well, I walked up and down after deplaning and I saw not a soul there to greet me. Just as I was about to go call a taxi and find a hotel, a disheveled fellow came over that could have been either a superannuated hippy or a homeless man, you know, bearded, soiled shirt, sockless, old-fashioned gold-rimmed glasses. He said, “Are you Dan Ford?” I told him I was, thinking some professor had hired him to meet me. Then he said, “I am Dr. So-and-so, chairman of the search committee.”

The greenness suddenly faded to a sun-scorched brown that evening, but the next day was eye-candy. What a beautiful setting for a college. And what great people! The committee chairman-greeter was not typical of the clean-cut faculty. I got the deanship and it was certainly the best position I ever had and we were as content as humans get, that is until four years later when the Natural State began to beckon with familiar greenness.

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