This post is inspired by a marathon, a conference, the election season, and a statement from my brilliant mentor who says "we're all basically on the same side, rowing the boat together" in a post from Constructing the Academy that you can read here.
Last weekend, in what proved to be great timing, I flew back east to run in the D.C. Marine Corps Marathon. This was my first marathon, so I did not really know what to expect. I had heard the cheering crowds were amazing at this event, and despite the weather courtesy of Sandy, they did indeed turn out in droves. Whether holding up signs or holding out cups of water, people lined the 26 mile route through the capital to cheer us on. Other than two people, I did not know a soul among the thousands running with me, but the sense of camaraderie as we all struggled together toward the same goal was a good feeling indeed.
I flew back just in time to attend a small conference of the top Victorian Poetry scholars hosted by the Armstrong Browning Library in honor of Robert Browning's 200th birthday. I have been to conferences before where, when the bigwigs are involved, things get nasty. Between territorial tiffs, self-righteous claims to being right, and the need to carve out a space for your own argument, academics can be quite nasty to one another. At this conference, however, I witnessed the best that can happen when great minds come together. We posed intellectual problems, pondered over possible solutions, shared helpful advice, and humbly asked for advice. The veteran and newly minted academics, honored professors and graduate students, all ate together, rode buses together, and participated in lively discussions together. There were even some Brits yee-hawing and swing dancing.
My mentor's statement points to an important truth: we are all in this business of being human together. Whether you are republican or democrat, sub-3 hour runner or marathon walker, a poetry or novel person, we are all rowing together. I am saddened, and often downright disgusted, at the way we talk to one another, across the political aisle, the department aisle, or even the grocery story aisle. My experiences of the past week in both the marathon and the Browning conference showed me what happens when we stop trying to row against one another and instead realize we can only experience the high seas if we row together.
“Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! The scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round the little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent..." ~ George Eliot