Time Out of Mind

More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones

For the past six weeks I’ve been on sabbatical, living in a one room cabin, with a 17-year-old cranky dog, on six acres of otherwise vacant oceanfront property, on Florida’s Treasure Coast, owned by a 93-year-old woman who has run the place since 1955. Since that time not much on the property has changed. Across A1A are eight cabins and another six acres that stretch to the Indian River. The cabins are concrete, basic, small, inhabited for four months each winter by the same group of people from the North, some of whom have been coming here for over 25 years. At 48, I am the youngest person here.

When I first found out that I got sabbatical, an entire semester to focus on my work and improve my teaching, I knew I would do those two things; however, when I found out I could it on this property on the beach, where my wife and I have spent Christmas Break for the last 12 years, I thought that sabbatical would be as much about surfing and fishing as writing and thinking about teaching.

But after only two weeks here, after surfing or fishing each day at dawn, meditating to get my head straight, writing and developing an online class in the afternoon, watching pelicans soar over the ocean at sunset, something changed. I started writing seriously, found the form of a novel that began to take over, develop its own rhythm that matched my time here. It got me more stoked than any surf session or fish on the line. It made me realize that after years of dreaming of winning the lottery, moving to Florida and live the life I thought I always wanted, that I would not be happy with that life.

Truman Capote once said, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” What makes this one of my favorite quotes is that it acknowledges that many of us think we know what our dreams and our prayers are when in fact we often have no idea what we really want or need to make us truly happy. People dream of the perfect partner, perfect house, perfect children, job, dog etc. And then when they get it, they realize that isn’t what they wanted at all. That’s when the tears really start flowing.

Sabbaticals are meant to allow professors time to pursue their research and projects with the idea that the results will have a positive impact on the college, students, fellow faculty and staff. And while I plan on accomplishing that here, there are other, less documented benefits of having this kind of sabbatical. Being alone here has exposed strengths and weaknesses I didn’t know I had and that I need to capitalize on those strengths and work on those weaknesses. It has given me time to appreciate the people I love most in the world and remind me just how lucky I am to have them in my life.

Sabbaticals, when done right (as I hope I am doing), not only result in good work, but also in helping us become better people. The problem is that not everyone has a job or life that enables them to have a sabbatical, much less have one alone. But what I’ve discovered here is that any kind of sabbatical, whether it be for a semester, a month, a week, a day, an hour, can reveal things (both good and bad) that we never knew existed. It can shape our impossible dreams and reveal ones that have already come true.

About Nate House 8 Articles
Nate House and Mary Conway moved to Calumet Street in East Falls after living on the Delaware Bayshore for two years. Before that they lived in Philadelphia neighborhoods from the Northeast to South Philly. They teach English, Communications and Gender Studies at Community College of Philadelphia. Links to other stories about ghosts, birds, dogs and magical fish can be found at www.natehouse.wordpress.com.

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