Week Eight of autumn quarter is wrapping up, and in the English Department students and instructors alike are heading into the final push of the term. Fall quarter is a curious creature because the winter holidays begin before the term actually ends. We may be ready for a holiday break all right, exhausted as we all are by the pace of the quarter system. But the holidays come too early nevertheless, because work—and sometimes the most important work of the quarter—still needs to be done.
We’re talking here about the intrusion, into the tail-end of autumn quarter, of Thanksgiving, which happens just before the big, final push of the quarter: the concluding week of classes right after the holiday, then final exams the following Monday through Wednesday.
This seasonal mini-break can provide time for everyone to catch a breath and some extra time for completing assignments and papers (writing them or grading them) and to celebrate briefly with family and friends before the onslaught of final exams. But Thanksgiving break can also put us in the holiday mood long before we should be—that is, if we want to finish the quarter without the distraction of a holiday warmth and excitement that somehow feels un-earned by the satisfying completion of yet another quarter.
And here is what is truly curious about this odd rhythm of fall quarter. A holiday so central to our acknowledgment of Providence’s work in our lives tugs us toward gratitude at the same time as, in the back of our minds and hearts, we feel reluctant to give ourselves fully over to it, for all the above reasons. It’s as if, being good sons and daughters of the Pilgrims whose tentative beginnings on this continent we celebrate on Thanksgiving, we must hold back on our acceptance of grace because we may not feel totally entitled to it. Not yet. There’s more work to be done to make us worthy, to allow us rest.
How can we acknowledge fully the gifts of grace while also persevering in our academic expression of what powers these gifts have stirred within us? Maybe Thanksgiving’s quirky intrusion into our academic lives can teach us to acknowledge a well-provided grace that comes un-earned, that cannot be earned, and simply to keep going. We’re allowed to catch a breath when we can, then rest when we can rest.