“It Might Have Been”
John Greenleaf Whittier writes: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” Why are these words the saddest words? It is because the reader has only one life to live. It is best to live life with no regrets. Life is full of hard choices. Maybe, the reader didn’t have the opportunities to achieve his dreams. When one looks back at his life, he wants to be able to say that he accomplished what he came to the earth for. It would be sad to say at the end of one’s life that he could have had a better life, but he didn’t do what was necessary to accomplish this goal. What are some of the reasons people might not have achieved their goals? Maybe, unseen circumstances blocked it. If this was caused by circumstances beyond their control, are they really responsible for not achieving their goals. Other possible reasons might be a lack of financial backing, laziness, or other priorities.
This is a topic that John has struggled with for a long time. When he was finishing up his master’s degree in history he thought about going on to earn a doctorate in history. Another decision was should he get married? He thought he couldn’t do both things at the time. John decided to get married and look for a job teaching school. He was offered a librarian job at a private school in Louisiana. He had originally applied for an opening for a fourth grade teacher. However, the principal called him on the phone and asked him if he would be willing to work in the library instead. The reason for this was that the librarian wanted to move back into the classroom. John told the principal that he would be happy to run the library for the school.
The interesting thing about being offered the librarian position was that he had thought about going to school to become a librarian for several years. He had worked part-time as a student worker in the library while attending the university. The private school was also willing to help pay for his tuition. John has now been working in libraries for nineteen years. However, it has remained in his heart to pursue a doctorate in some discipline. Every few years John has a desire to take this idea from the shelf and look at it again. It is hard to understand why this desire has stayed with him all these years. Did God put it there?
While John was pursuing undergraduate studies in history, he sensed God was calling him to be a Christian scholar. He didn’t hear any voices, but he was convinced that this is what God wanted him to do with his life. This conviction has never left John. After working in Public, School, and Academic libraries, John is convinced that his calling is to work in an academic library. Working in the academy allows him to pursue the calling of a Christian scholar. The good thing about being a librarian is that the requirement is a master’s degree in library science. So even though John does not have a doctorate, he can live out his calling at the college or university level.
Some of the ways he tries to pursue this calling is through scholarly activities. Several years ago John began to publish book reviews for library journals. A few years ago he began to present papers at academic conferences. In addition, John has published some articles in academic journals. Last summer he started to write a blog to further his scholarly activities.
John has been teaching history courses at the Baptist College of Florida for several years. He has taught survey courses in American History and Western Civilization. Over three years ago, he started teaching the survey courses of Western Civilization online. Recently, John has been assigned to teach most of the history courses in the history major online.
A few years ago John presented a paper at the University of Mobile. At the conference were some professors of Faulkner University at Montgomery. John happened to sit together at meals with these professors and become familiar with them. He was interested to learn that Faulkner had a master’s degree in the Great Books and was trying to create a doctoral program in the Great Books. He was excited about this idea because of his love for the Great Books. John was a participant in a Great Books group for over five years. He still has an interest in the doctorate and so it seemed a good combination. He was quite excited about the prospect of this opportunity. It seemed like the perfect time. Maybe, it was time for John to pursue the doctorate. He knew that certain obstacles would be in the way. One of these was funds. How would he finance this new degree? He had already paid off all his student loans. Did John want to create new debts? What would the school think about his pursuing a doctorate? Probably, the biggest obstacle would be his family. What would his wife and kids think about this idea?
It didn’t take long to find out the answers to these questions. John got the school’s approval to help finance it. John’s wife and kids did not like the idea, but they were willing to let him try it for one semester. So John registered for the class and was on his way. It was an excellent first course. He enjoyed it very much and did very well. The next semester would be the summer term. John tried to get the school to pay for it, but it was rejected. So he decided he would just start back the next semester. Next semester came around and it was denied. John was told that since the school was not requiring him to earn this degree that the school would not pay for it. He was told that he should forget the idea and save the money for his family. He found out about a scholarship with the Southern Baptist foundation, but it would only pay for half the degree. John’s wife was against the idea of him continuing in the program. Since they have special needs kids and their needs will grow as they get older, she thought John needed to drop the idea until the kids were grown.
Another obstacle is his age. He is now fifty. It would take between 5-10 years to complete the program. John will be close to retirement by that time. Is it really worth the investment of time and money that he will need to spend on doing the task? John read in a book about a professor who spent all his time at school and pursuing scholarly activity and neglecting his family. Should John’s family pay the price for his secret dream? Of course, John could continue pursuing learning on his own and participating in scholarly activities. John decided to drop the pursuit for the time being. Did he do the right thing? Will John later regret it?
John has received many benefits from his association with faculty at Faulkner University. First, he was asked to present a paper at their annual Faith and Learning conference. He has now presented papers at this annual conference three years in a row. Second, while taking a course with Dr. Robert Woods, he began a relationship that continues to this day. Third, through Dr. Wood’s encouragement, John began a blog. Fourth, he began a discipline of getting up at 5 a. m. to study while taking a course at Faulkner which he continues to follow. John’s association with Faulkner University and some of its professors has been a blessed one.
This essay began with a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” This writer does not know the circumstances of Whittier when he wrote this line. Was he disappointed with his life? Did he know of others who were disappointed with their life? It is true that life should be lived with no regrets. Sometimes, obstacles stand in the way of achieving life-long goals. Certain priorities might not allow for a person to fulfill his or her dream. For example, John has chosen not to pursue the Ph.D because it will hurt his relationship with his wife. He believes his relationship to his wife and children are more important than earning a doctorate at this time. Is he missing out on life? Definitely not! He has the opportunity to teach and work at the library in the college environment. He has opportunities to publish and present papers at conferences. John picked a dissertation topic while enrolled at Faulkner. The topic was Walker Percy. John continues to do research on Percy and present papers on Percy at academic conferences. Though John does not feel at peace to pursue the doctorate at this time, he does feel an inner peace to pursue his studies on Walker Percy. John does not moan a might have been. He, however, rejoices in the many opportunities God has given him to pursue his life-long mission—to be a Christian scholar.