WE HAD TO FIND a new chairperson for our department at the university where I am a tenured professor. I was the head of the search committee. After a year of dedicated work with many meetings, along with interviews with 16 candidates, the day of decision finally arrived. The first two votes did not yield a majority choice. A university statute provided for a third vote, where the votes of a majority of professors can overrule the votes of students and other academic groups serving on the committee. The statute is rarely invoked, but this time it happened. And I was on the losing side—along with the students, teachers, docents, and two other professors.
After the vote, tears filled my eyes (embarrassing in front of 20 people), and I needed a moment to recover. I envisioned a future scenario of mistrust and tyrannical behavior; I expected fights and divisions. That final day had been a long one for everyone, and we were all exhausted. However, a statement in an article I'd read in this magazine came to my aid. So in my final words, thanking the committee for their diligence and commitment, I included the phrase, "Democracy means learning to lose." I added that we would now finalize our discussions about the candidates and stretch out our hands to welcome a new colleague.
Easier said than done—I was devastated. I gathered up final notes, collected piles of material, organized lists and records of proceedings, and packed up my things to board a train. On my way out, I met a student in the elevator. This student, whom I didn't know very well, said, "Looking as horrible as you do, it must mean that our vote was overruled." I couldn't tell him then of the outcome of the meeting or that I was actually contemplating leaving my position altogether. While he walked me to the train station in the pouring rain (what a mirror of my inner state of mind!), he reminded me that I had told a class that a university, as established by the founding statutes of the University of Bologna 800 years ago, is where people are willing to be taught. And that the students needed me to stay regardless of what happened with this appointment. He said they were the ones who really matter at a university.
His comments prompted me to realize that this could be a learning experience. In the following days, I had work to do—prayerful, metaphysical work to restore my joy and gratitude. I tried to listen earnestly to God, divine Mind, to understand goodness as being always present, real, and tangible; to trust the wisdom of divine Love. In the beginning, my study and prayer seemed more like just dragging through familiar verses than the happiness I normally feel. And then the day came when I had to call the candidate to offer him the job.
This verse dusted off my waiting thoughts: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God" (I John 4:7). I realized that I had no choice but to love and move beyond my personal convictions. And not just because I wanted to, but because I had to think and act according to the most fundamental law in Love's realm—a law as fixed and inevitable as gravity is on earth. Love is not an option. Love is. I was free and willing to let "the winds of God blow," as Science and Health states—to be willing to stop hugging my "tatters close about" me—my concerns, prejudices, and fears (see p. 201).
In a few days, my previous outlook was transformed. Joy and light filled my thoughts and heart. I found it easy to pick up the phone and talk freely for the first time with my prospective new colleague—and with joy!
Is it a surprise that this new colleague is the most friendly and warm-hearted man one can imagine and that we are by now a wonderful and strong team? So, I ask myself, Who changed—he or I? I humbly learned a fundamental lesson: Joy is always linked to unselfishness. I felt that my experience truly illustrated this statement from Science and Health: "Unity of spirit gives new pinions to joy, or else joy's drooping wings trail in dust" (p. 58). I learned that the purest joy comes from love—strong, shining, unconditional love.
Annette Kreutziger-Herr lives with her husband, Klaus, and their two children in Berlin. She teaches at the University of Music, Cologne.