Where Do You Find Refuge?
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I find refuge in the arms of my wife, and in the eyes of my infant son.
My family keeps things in perspective. I go home and I'm just Dad, not Professor Wetzel. If I publish a scientific paper, my kids may think it's neat that my name is there, but that's all. When you go home, you're just Dad—and that's enough.
Sugar Creek drew me to Wabash nearly 40 years ago.
My second visit to campus included a fraternity canoe trip. That did it; I was hooked.
I spent my share of weekends as a student in the '60s canoeing with friends. Gondoliering down the Sugar Creek wilderness, singing show tunes. On one high-water trip we discovered a canoe lodged beneath a logjam. We returned later and, after considerable underwater sawing, we retrieved not one, but two canoes. One became the first of my now five-boat stable.
Over the years, I've taken several students out to share my love of Sugar Creek. The trip I best remember was about 10 years ago. I took Waseel Azizi '95, a Pakistani student, down the creek for a couple of hours.
When we passed through the wide valley where the first settler of record, William Offield, built his homestead, Waseel began quietly singing, "Mani, mani, mani/busan cahani ching . . . "
I asked what prompted the song, and he told me a tale of traveling with his mussein grandfather in Pakistan to experience a Sufi water ritual at a stream recalled by our location in Sugar Creek.
I still use that Sufi chant as a meditation focus. It carries me back to one of my many moments of refuge on Sugar Creek.
Walk into the Lilly Library, go up the main stairs, and on the right side of the Goodrich Room you'll find an unassuming study table sitting among the oversized art books. During my four years as a Wabash student, my friends and I spent many hours there reading, talking, and preparing for class. The study table became "our" table. It became, in its own way, a safe haven, providing refuge from the distractions of the fraternity house and the stress of our courses. I'm sure many Wabash men have a similar attachment to certain spots in the library or elsewhere on campus; perhaps even "my" table is another student's site of refuge.
I recently had the chance to revisit that study table. When I came back to campus in early 2004 to interview for an assistant professorship, I had 40 minutes to myself to rehearse the lecture I was giving that afternoon. I immediately retreated to my old study area on the second floor of Lilly. Sitting there again, tucked between Chinese paintings and Renaissance portraits, I felt the stress and pressure of the interview lift. At least for a moment, the career-side of academia connected with a nostalgic image of learning as a pursuit enjoyed among friends.
I still spend occasional afternoons at that table to read or prepare for class. It seems that refuge derives not from the material comfort or solitude of a place but rather from the memory of happy hours lived there. A sense of refuge accretes to a place over time, a patina produced as life brushes against a surface day after day and perceptible only to those who produced it.
When I think of refuge, two thoughts come immediately to mind. First, our 200-year-old farmhouse in a village in Vermont that is so small it's not even on most maps! Second, the practice of mindfulness—a sort of day-to-day mental battery recharging process.
If I come home from a day of stressful meetings, it's nice to focus on something concrete that has an end product. The whole process of making dinner is my comfort zone.