Farewell, tasks and responsibilities

Published 10:28 am Friday, June 8, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

By the time this column appears in the Tribune, I will be in a place far away from Albert Lea, where phone calls, text messages and emails cannot reach me.

The place is called Holden Village, an ecumenical religious community deep in the mountains surrounding Lake Chelan in the state of Washington. I will be there (with the boy and she-who-must-be-obeyed) for three weeks and one day.

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It’s called a “sabbatical” and it means I get to do something I love every day: write. Oh, I’ll take in some Bible studies, sing in the chapel choir, spend time in prayer, and I’ll go hiking a couple of times a week and run every day (I need to be ready for the April Sorensen Memorial Half Marathon on July 7). Writing, however, will be the main event for me. And when I’m not writing, my second priority will be reading the books I’m taking with me or books from the village library.

Sabbaticals are a “fringe” benefit in many professional fields, including academic careers like mine. They don’t mean the same thing for everybody, though. For some academics, freed from the demands of prepping for courses and grading, a sabbatical is a time for extended research on a project — like looking for dark matter in the Milky Way galaxy or the sources of the plaque deposits in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. For others, it’s a time to go on a lengthy trip, collecting data for work that will take place after the sabbatical is over. For still others, a sabbatical is a time to work on that book that’s been bouncing around inside our brains or offices.

Sabbaticals can also be used to just take a break from the usual routine.

Technically, this sabbatical belongs to she-who-must-be-obeyed, who is graciously taking me and the boy with her. She gets a full three month break from the routines of her work for the church she serves, with no preaching or pastoral care responsibilities until the first week of August. For people like her, who aren’t using their time away from office, classroom or pulpit to work really hard at something else, the meaning of the word sabbatical intentionally comes from the “sabbath” traditions of Judaism and some Christians. She’s going to lay down the burdens of work in order to focus on her own spirituality, health and nutrition.

For me, the sabbatical will be something in between. I’ll be stepping away from the tasks of accreditation at the college and the other work I’m doing this summer as I plan next year’s classes. I will tune out the news — political and otherwise — for three weeks. The events and issues of the outside world will doubtless trickle in, but I don’t plan on paying much attention to them.

When I’m not tuning out the voices of the world, I’ll be working hard on stories and essays, some of which may show up in this spot later this year. Mostly they will be longer pieces, as I try to work on a nonfiction book of my own, or a collection of short stories, or revise the novel that’s been bounced around and rejected by publishers. I will have many busy days over the next three weeks, writing, revising and editing a host of words.

Every so often, though, when I feel like I’ve written enough words to deserve it, I will hit the trail and head up the mountain. There’s probably still snow up towards the peaks, and the lakes are crystal clear and bracingly cold. Body, mind and spirit all will get some attention.

For readers of Notes from Home, the main short-term consequences of my quest for rest and reflection in that mountain retreat is a substitute writer named Katie Mullaly. Unlike me, she’s a poet and a native Minnesotan, though born and raised a bit west of here in Blue Earth. I hope you enjoy what she has to say over the next three weeks.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.