A Twilight Musing
Recently I felt moved to write an autobiography. You may ask why I think an account of my life is worth recording and who I think would (or should) read it. Those are questions worth asking and answering, so I will proceed to do so. (Perhaps we could call it my apologia autobiographica.) My basic reasons for undertaking this task are three: (1) Everyone has a story, and the best time of life to tell it is from the vantage point of advanced years, and my four-score and one qualifies. (2) An account of my life, if written from a Christian perspective, should be a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness, so it has the potential of being an encouragement to others. (3) Recording the events of my life will provide some documentation for our children and grandchildren to understand better their relationship to the past. And in a more personal way, I want to leave some information about myself that enables them to know me after I’m gone.
One of the stereotypical characteristics of older people is their being inveterate story tellers who patch together episodes in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner. I want to tap into this inclination to look back and recall events, but give it structure and thematic unity. My theme would be to recognize, acknowledge, and give thanks for the many people whose lives contributed to the formation of my character and the development of my skills. Some of these may be obvious and stand out, while others rendered their services so unobtrusively as to be easily forgotten. A carefully written record will assure that even my quiet benefactors are recognized. I remember, for example, the loving attention given to me and others by “Miss Addie,” my first Sunday School teacher. She never drew attention to herself, but she introduced scores of little children to Bible stories and the love of Jesus over the years. In contrast, my mentor and sponsor in college days was a larger-than-life professor named James Culp. Dr. Culp took me under his wing and held out the vision of pursuing an academic career. I worked as his student assistant in my senior year, and he nominated me for a graduate fellowship that paid my way for the first year of a doctoral program. After I completed my Ph.D. and was employed as a college teacher myself, he continued to be interested in what was happening to me and rejoiced in my successes. Miss Addie and Dr. Culp differed greatly in their visibility and the sophistication of their help to me, but I owe them both a significant debt of gratitude.
It has taken a full lifetime for me to come to the state of confidence I now have in the absolute reliability of God. He has, so to speak, rolled up an overwhelming “track record” of meeting my needs and giving me the strength and resources to do the tasks to which He has called me. Some account of these experiences is appropriate to share with others—not to brag about, but to give praise to God. Some of my examples were epiphanies of God’s goodness and dependability, but others were more diffused blessings, like having godly parents who taught me the Word of God and moral responsibility, and having educational opportunities that fostered my intellectual development. Prominent among the notable instances of God’s provision was His identifying an adult foster care home for our daughter, Cynthia, whose Huntington’s Disease-generated behavior had exhausted our mental and spiritual resources. Thanks to our being unexpectedly connected by a politician with some influential people, Cynthia was placed in a foster care home within a week of the initiation of procedures. I hope that more examples of both kinds of God’s good gifts will be of benefit to others and bring Him praise.
Nobody has requested that I write this treatise, so there is no guaranteed audience for it, but I hope that my children and grandchildren, in particular, will see its value once it’s done (a point in time that seems to recede farther the more I write!). My efforts will have been rewarded if their eventual personal interest in this record morphs into a broader appreciation for the larger history that concerns us all. Valuing the records of the past is a much-needed perspective in the present Western culture of chronological snobbery. Our society places so much value on the present and on the supposed advancements of the future that the past seems irrelevant. Whereas the truth is that we don’t even know who we are without some serious attention to understanding the past. Even more important for Christians is the fact that their faith is founded in the history of God’s work with His people, and that history is the substance of the Gospel message.
In writing about oneself, it’s difficult to strike a balance between egoistic projection and transparent honesty. I hope there is something to be gained in reading about both my supposed successes and my failures. I will do my best neither to exaggerate the one nor to gloss over the other. Beyond the mere relation of events, I want to present to potential readers some sense of how I see my life experiences and how my understanding has changed over the years. Of one thing I’m sure: For my having reached this point in my long journey with mind and body pretty much intact, God is greatly to be praised. I hope that my account of that journey will supply more evidence of His goodness.
Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)