Monday, December 21, 2009

"Not every-day-of-the-week news...."

"Once-in-a-lifetime news!"

That line from Fiddler on the Roof (I was Chava in our college production) keeps coming to mind.

Because Christmas came early to our house even though we believed it would not come at all.

Last Thursday morning, the phone rang, and caller ID listed a name we didn't recognize. I thought it was the plasterer, because, "Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles" (the song in Fidder that follows the line above) our building manager had finally succeeded in getting the contractor from the big renovation project in the building to come over and discuss repairing all our damaged walls, ceilings, doors, woodwork, and floors. And he had agreed to send guys over to fix them. And, as usual, they were late.

But the caller turned out to be the head of search committee for the Academic Job of My Husband's Dreams at a local university. He was using someone else's cell phone.

Two weeks after their very-top-secret, strictly confidential selection meeting — which we knew all about, of course — they had finally chosen my husband over the other candidate, a very accomplished, tenured professor at an Ivy League.

Never mind that we'd been told that the winning candidate would be notified within 24 hours of the meeting. Never mind that we'd spent those two weeks in the worst kind of suspense, gyrating through hope, anguish, pessimism, despair, frustration, hope, confusion, resignation, sadness, defeat, annoyance, and hope.

But those two awful weeks changed us. We spent sleepless nights watching movie after movie because it was better than lying in bed, staring into darkness side-by-side all night. We did so much soul-searching that we actually located our souls. We realized that we weren't handling this blow very gracefully, and we went to some pains to try to become better people and get grips on ourselves. Our biggest worry was that his current university was cutting his salary in half next year because their rules for full- and part-time faculty had changed. How would we survive on half a salary? We didn't know. Instead we discussed how very lucky we were to have our families and friends, to have come as far as we have, to be healthy and still young enough that we could start over in some other state if another job came along.

But then the call came, and we didn't have to become better people after all. The country's most prestigious university likes him just the way he is. So do I. They said they were thrilled to have chosen him (I won't ask why it took them 22 months). We are thrilled, too.

It took awhile for the news to sink in, and at first I had to sit down and take deep breaths to get over the faintness. Then I remembered the line I'd been secretly rehearsing through all the despair and melodrama.

"I knew it all along! I never doubted it!" I said. He looked at me in disbelief.

This position means tenure (security), paid sabbaticals (time), and better compensation (freedom). It's a great honor. Scholars all over the world applied for it. My scholar really deserves it. He's been working hard and well in his chosen field since he was 15.

We've been walking on a cloud for days, sharing the news with friends and colleagues far and wide and receiving the most eloquent and excited congratulations. They keep telling him that it's a wonderful Christmas gift for them because they wanted this for him so much.

In other words, we find ourselves living a 21st-century-academic version of It's a Wonderful Life. Every time we hear a bell ring, a professor gets his wings.

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