Space is important to me.
In particular, the space of my office is important to me, not only because it’s the place where I do much of my own work, but also because it’s the place where I welcome students.
I’m grateful to work on a campus where I’ve been given a large office, with a window, in a beautiful building. This is a luxury, and part of how I practice gratitude for that gift is in practicing hospitality.
In addition to my work desk and work chair, there’s a sitting area with a wingback chair and a love seat, a tea table placed in between. On the tea table are various Victorian knick-knacks, old books, and of course, a silver tea set–which is often in use. I always have Kleenex and candy available. Oak bookcases wrap the walls and there are some large branches my children decorated with paper flowers hanging from the ceiling. I hate fluorescent lighting, so there are a number of lamps. Not enough lamps, though–the space can have a cave-like feeling once the sun goes down.
This cozy, warm, book-filled space is meant to communicate an invitation–come visit–and most days I’ll have meaningful conversations with at least two or three students. One of the joys of my work is that students invite me into their lives–we talk about the big questions that confront all of us, we talk about their dating lives, we talk about my children, we talk about philosophy and theology and poetry. They sit on the pink love seat and I sit in the wingback chair. Sometimes we’re howling with laughter, and sometimes we’re just sitting quietly together.
A student once observed that the overall effect of that space is like an enchanted forest. A place where new ideas may be encountered that seem strange, even threatening, but also a place where transformation can occur. I also like the metaphor of the nest. College is a time of growth, change, molting, shedding, and re-feathering. Like a mother hen, I brood over my chicks. When they’ve grown enough then I’ll send them out from the nest, and I often will never see them again.
The other day I decided to sit where my students usually sit to see the room from their perspective. On the wall opposite the love seat is an enormous whiteboard that I’ve used to map out writing and book projects and professional goals. There are deadlines and dates and various notes to myself in a variety of increasingly alarming colors (“DUE!!! SUBMIT!! FINISH THIS!”).
Now, while there may be some benefit in highlighting for students the behind-the-scenes activity of the professoriate–the ways we continue our research, the ways we structure our time–the effect of that whiteboard in a space meant to communicate hospitality was jarring.
So I erased everything. No more due dates in red. No more ten-year plans building to a Fulbright. No more checked and unchecked boxes for half-completed projects. Those elements are important, to be sure, but they needed a new, more private home.
Now the whiteboard is mostly white. And written on it are a few words of life, meant to be memorable. The sorts of things you might accidentally memorize while staring at them for twenty minutes or so.
Words belong to each other. Virginia Woolf
To pray is more about listening than talking. Jean Vanier
Every creature is a word of God. Meister Eckhart
Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Roald Dahl
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Thomas Merton
I don’t know if my students will remember any of these words, but that’s not the point. I do hope that my students remember how they feel when they’re in my office. I hope they feel listened to. I hope they feel personally comfortable and intellectually uncomfortable. I hope they feel safe exploring what seems dangerous, what seems alien, what seems scary.
Most of all, I hope they feel space–the space that is always with us, always waiting for us, always inviting us in.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.