Scholar

Scholar
I failed to persuade them to invest in the full three and a half days. They opted for two half day ‘over-views’ instead. I reluctantly agreed, knowing nothing was likely to change from such a quick, shallow dip. This was a world-class university, overflowing with smarts, confident that their people would be able to instantly absorb any information. Problem was, I wasn’t dealing in information.

I would be received as the visiting scholar, one who’d spent his life studying his specialty, one who had distilled whole libraries into a single simple meme. Sitting in my presence should transform something. Hearing me speak, however briefly, should spark enough understanding. I wasn’t really dealing in understanding, either.

The visiting scholar holds mythical stature, expected to not merely understand, but to instantly impart understanding. As if he’d done the leg work, proved the claim, mined the ore, smelted the precious metal, and stamped the coins he’ll just hand out to anyone attending his lecture. In fact, the scholar holds more questions than answers, and might be best understood as the inheritor of the unanswerable question. This query requires caretaking, a patient, persistent, and nurturing hand to hold; one that will, in time, pass it on to a following generation.

Almost no one anticipates this gift, expecting some scholarly spoon-feeding but receiving instead something needing a finely-honed knife edge guided by an unusually steady hand. Scholarship doesn’t scale. It does not distill into vest pocket-sized memes. It seems neither gracious nor gentile. It’s lonely, rusty work traditionally done in dungeons. The visiting scholar has more experience charming mold than classrooms filled with warmly anticipating students.

It might take someone who understands every little detail to explain in ways nobody could ever understand, but it’s worse for anyone who understands that understanding sits far, far beside the point then finds himself speaking to a room filled with eager understanding-seekers. Some will find the scholar’s reluctance to simply summarize evidence that he’s playing cat and mouse, toying with his students. Others will simply snicker at his unfinished unified theory, which he never intended to finish or unify in the first place.

The visiting scholar seeks neither understanding nor to be understood. He comes to share his inquiry with others, some of whom might never have suspected the importance of leaving critical questions unanswered and burning issues unresolved; leaving a life’s work eternally unfinished. His presence reminds the few how cheap easy answers can be and how very, very dear the inquiry. Maybe the visiting scholar deals in appreciation.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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