You Are Here
After a year of struggling with Chemistry, and a summer spent away from home, my college curriculum became consumed with religious studies. One of the required courses for this program when I attended the University of Tennessee was World Religions 101. This class was my introduction to many things, but mainly how to study history and people in a way I had not done before. There was an emphasis on the major world religions, but it also included Dr. Hackett’s specialty, religion in Africa, as well.
She was strict, she was brilliant, and she had a fabulous accent used to ask piercing questions. When answers to her previous questions were based on emotion or filled with personal information rather than facts, she beamed. Dr. Hackett, from a student’s desk, seemed to be all business. It made me wonder why there was a rumor buzzing around campus that this class was an easy “A”. The class was tough. Tougher than I thought a class on religion might have been.
One day, I worked up the courage to ask her a simple question, to which she gave a simple reply. I asked this question from my desk, in earnest, in front of the whole group of students assembled for that day’s lesson. The information, I believe, would have helped me know more about what I was being taught. Maybe, unknowingly, it was to give me an excuse not take her for her word on some point or another. These days, as I find myself answering the same type of question in a similar way.
She must have thought I was mad. Though I suspect she had been asked this question before. She called on me and said, “Yes, Kevin?”
With every confidence of an older teenager that believed he had life figured out already, I asked, “What religion are you?”
Her response was wonderful (which, is why, I suspect she had heard this type of question before). It made me think and has been with me for these many years since. She was not offended but she seemed slightly stern. There was no consideration of the “how” of how to tell me. She did not seem to ponder the many religions in the world or try to decide on one over another. Dr. Hackett looked at me with no smile, but no distaste, and said, “If you cannot tell by the way I live, you do not need to know.”
Even today I cannot determine if that was an invitation to get to know her or a reprimand for my wanting to know this about her. Several years later, she stopped by my work and we caught up on things that former students and professors tend to catch up on. She invited me to a seminar the department was putting on and I attended, mostly to see old friends. I spoke to her briefly again, but I never asked her what religion she claimed. Somehow, such things were not important to me any longer.
Whatever her religion, or lack thereof, she taught me two great truths. Religion, though it was the course of my studies, and remains a continued interest, is relatively unimportant when face to face with someone. Secondly, she taught me, either by intent or by accident, that my living is my religion. My heart is my praise. That love, in a very real way, should always be spoken without words.
It is odd that in the four or five years I attended university, the lessons I learned were not written in any textbook. All of the money spent on tuition and books were not wasted, but the experience of learning, rather than the information taught, shaped me. While I ended up with a degree in religious studies, all of what those professors and students taught me cannot be summed up in a certificate. What I learned was how, and not what, to learn.
I was never an academic wonder or a scholar. My life has taught me more so than books, and I believe things that are not commonly accepted. Especially about the divine. I often find myself allowing others to go on and on, about this topic or another, while quietly knowing something different. And when dogmatic (but sincere) friends or strangers try to convince me that my beliefs are false, I smile inside, surround them with love, and remember Dr. Hackett’s words.
“If you cannot tell by the way I live my life, you do not need to know.”
There is no call to action here that advises you to share this website or these words. Also, there is no advice on your behavior or your helping a world in need of help. What I will say, without hesitation, is that you are better than even you, most likely think you are. The world is better than you most likely have been convinced it is by the evening news, and not all of what you have learned is only what you have been taught. Kindness and compassion seem to create more peace than politics or struggle.
The “why” of how we live is up to us and cannot be measured. “How” we live our lives is all that others are able to see. Most often, those that worry for the “why” of another’s living are not content with the “why” of “how” they are living their lives. While I cannot determine your “why”, I might say that you are a miracle. That you are full of every grace and deserve each one. We have made it this far, we will make it one more day. The world is lucky to have you in it.
As for me, if I am remembered as fondly as I remember Dr. Hackett, I will have accomplished great things. Just one more comment, in one more class, for her, shaped me beyond most other teachings. Funny how that works. While I am sure I am better for having attended those years in school, it probably is not because I am any smarter. It is because it was one part of what got me here. Here is not such a bad place after all.