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by Troy Schuknecht


“How was your year?” 

“It was good. Yours?” 

“It was good.”

I have attended the Society for Classical Learning conference annually since 2008 and while it is always a highlight of my year, the first half day tends to be dedicated to the same conversation ad nauseam. I understand why it is needed; time has passed since we last saw one another and social conventions prevent us from an immediate deep dive. 

Never one to procrastinate, especially in things I dread, I hope my conference friends will accept this answer, written in advance so that we can get to the business of being formed through the rich conversation about worthy things that will undoubtedly mark the remainder of our time together. Before I get to that answer, I wish to lay a quick foundation for it.

At the heart of the question at hand is the passage of time. Time is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. You should find it odd were I to boldly proclaim “it was nine months in duration” as my response to “how was your year?” We intuit the preeminence of the qualitative element in the passing of time.

My musings on this topic brought me to an interesting conversation in the book Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer. While telling his tale as a journalist turned competitor at the US Memory Championships and repopularizing the ancient memory palace, he recounts numerous other interesting conversations. One such conversation, with a competitor named Ed Cooke, deals with the subject of psychological time and his desire to expand subjective time such that one experiences what feels like a longer life.

“‘And how are you going to do that?’ I asked 

‘By remembering more. By providing my life with more chronological landmarks. By making myself more aware of time’s passage.’

I told him that his plan reminded me of Dunbar, the pilot in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 who reasons that since time flies when you’re having fun, the surest way to slow life’s passage is to make it as boring as possible.

Ed Shrugged. ‘Quite the opposite. The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to fly.’”

After telling the story of Michel Siffre’s self-experimentation in a dark cave wherein “his experience of time’s passage had compressed by a factor of two, Foer offers the following conclusion.

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthy and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next – and disappear…Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

In a sense, my work in classical Christian education has lengthened my life. When I spent the summer of 1996 as a lifeguard, time dragged on and was completely unmemorable. Convinced that an hour had passed, I would glance at the clock and find my estimation fourfold shy. The opposite is true in my work as an educator. Yet while the days fly by, they are filled with meaning and nuance such that the passage of time is easy to mark. 

The work of an educator is infused with formative rhythms that mark each day, week, month, and year. In addition to forming us, these rhythms provide built-in chronological landmarks that increase our perceived lifespan. The nature of the work is such that novelty abounds. Even more importantly, the purpose of our work infuses each moment with meaning. If the mundane is forgettable, our work is inherently memorable.

With that foundation laid, I believe we are ready to have the conversation. 

You ask “How was your year?”

“My year was filled with meaningful, memorable, and worthwhile work. My life is full and purposeful as a direct result of the good work to which God has called me. We enjoyed the privilege of both watching God move in our midst and of active participation in it.” 

“That is wonderful.”

“But wait, there is more that should be said. This worthwhile work was done in a community of people I love, who love me well, who have earned my respect personally and professionally, and who I genuinely like being around.”

“It sounds like you are in a great place. Was there anything unique about this year in particular?”

“Oh yes. God granted our school a tranquil and unified year. Though a year of trials can also be called good when viewed through a perspective focused by distance, God saw fit to grant us a year marked by peace and one in which our collective passion for the mission became palpable. For that, we are grateful. 

In short, my year was good. 

How was yours?”

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