Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Quest for an A

My Humanities professor is an interesting man. I love to listen to him. He's probably in his late 50's, maybe early 60's. He looks like a cross between Tony Bennett and the Godfather, an Italian from Detroit. Sometimes I am distracted by the hair growing on his ears, or that one tooth in the back that is longer than all the rest, but besides that, even with the late hour, and the calm and even tone of his voice, he keeps my attention easily. He is very intellectual, no doubt about it, and he has a searching heart, as well. He reads voraciously, the kinds of books most people have to be forced to read. Intense books. Heavy reads. He wants to know. But sometimes he thinks he knows it all.

We took our test on Aeschylus' The Oresteia last week. About 70% of the class failed it. (Don't worry, I got an A, but I read that book twice along with every footnote, translator's note and critical essay I could find online.) After the results, he sat back perplexed. He said there was absolutely no excuse for not reading the book. We've known for almost a month that the test would be given on this date and on this book. The only way to fail, he said, was to not read the book. Then he told a story.

When he was in graduate school, for his PhD (in what exactly, I don't remember, he has several graduate degrees), he knew he would have to take 27 classes. He set a goal to get an A in all 27 of them. He hoped he learned something too, but above all, he really wanted A's on his record. One of the classes he was required to take was in Economics. Most of the students in the class were graduate students in Economics, and he was not. He was simply required to take this class. After the first class period, he was lost. He approached one of the other students and asked him, "What do I need to read to understand this class?" The student wrote down the names of five books. My professor immediately went to the bookstore and bought these five books and went home to read them.

But he couldn't understand a single thing. The books were written at a level of understanding beyond his, and they weren't doing him any good. So he went back to the bookstore and bought the textbooks for Econ 101 and 120. He stayed up for three days straight, without sleep, reading those textbooks, and then he went back to the five meaty books and read those. When he went back to class, he could understand! But what an incredible effort to get there. He earned his A, and 26 others.

He has talked somewhat of his quest for spiritual enlightenment as well. He has traveled the world, read many ancient texts, and studied with spiritual teachers. He practiced Buddhism for many years, but recently converted to Islam. When one student asked him why, he said, "Because the most recent revelations are found in Islam."


I wanted to jump out of my chair! No! There are far more recent revelations! Keep looking! And there will be some more, this weekend!

How blessed I feel to have truth in my life. To be guided by a living prophet, to have direction specifically for my life, in this world now, from a God who never stopped loving His children, and still speaks to them.

Then my professor took another interesting direction. He spoke with some sentimentality of how he wishes he'd known when he was 30, what he knows now. How different the world looks from where he now stands, how certain things don't matter that then did, and how other things do matter that he'd never considered previously. He feels like there are some subjects that he has gained mastery over, and how sad it is that the mastery comes so late in life. He also told the story of his last visit with his father before he died in his 80's, and how his father expressed the same feelings. How he'd worked and studied his whole life and he knows so much now, and it's all a waste because he's now about to die.

That is sad to me. How hopeless!

No, again! I wanted to shout. That doesn't even make any sense!

Doesn't God (Allah) love you? Doesn't he want you to strive to be like Him? Then why on earth would He tease you along and then have it all come to a screeching halt? What would be the purpose in progressing in intelligence and knowledge and gaining mastery, if you just die and it's all wasted?

Tell your dad he gets to take it with him. That was the plea from my heart. You too.

Because very modern revelation says, "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19)

That's the whole point. That's why it's worth it.

There's a more important A to earn.


Annette Lyon said...

I would have been itching to jump out of my seat as well!

Rachel Sue said...

I have met people like that and think that I wish they knew what I knew. . .

Wonder Woman said...

I just love the way you write. Do you write things for Segullah ever? Or send things to the Ensign? I felt like I was reading it just now.

Though I must admit, this makes me curious to see what "recent" revelations Islam has.

Saint Holiday said...

O the humanities!


Luisa Perkins said...

Okay, THIS is your best post ever. I love it, love it, love it. I'm so proud of your As! You're setting an amazing example for your children.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

This was so incredible, Jenna. And how sad that a man that thirsty for knowledge and enlightenment should be so resigned to such a thing! Especially when there is the hope of so much more!

InkMom said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Thanks for sharing this!

Chas Hathaway said...

I can't help thinking that this situation is common for those outside of the church. We really are blessed to have the fullness of the gospel. Not only does it help us know in our early years what knowledge and study is most worth pursuing, but it helps us learn the most powerful way to learn that there is!

Someone with that much desire for learning and knowledge may be prepared for that greater knowledge that comes with a testimony of the gospel.

- Chas