Seamus Heaney was a poet born in Northern Ireland. In 1992, he delivered the S.A. Yoder Memorial Lecture at Goshen College. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He died last week.
I may have met him.
In 1992 I worked at Goshen College, just down the hall from the English Department. If I went the long way to the bathroom, I passed a shared conference room. I walked past faculty offices in a hallway narrow enough that two people could pass side-by-side, but if there were three, someone needed to stop or speed up. I have a vague recollection of passing him, of seeing him in the conference room, of somehow establishing face-contact.
I certainly heard his name from his disciples and fans, this poet three years from Nobel recognition. My colleagues were thoughtful and scholarly, but when they got excited about great opportunities, they let made people aware. But I was too busy to care, focused on the business at hand. Literally, I worked in the Organizational Management Program, helping people finish college quickly. There wasn’t time for listening that poetry demands, the soul-scraping that poetry causes.
People wonder about Jesus. They wonder about the people who walked hallways with him. The people who saw him in conference rooms, who passed him on the way to the bathroom. “Wouldn’t everyone have known him?” they ask. “Wouldn’t everyone have been talking about him?” When we read about ‘everyone’ in the Gospels, we assume it means 100% of the population of Palestine.
But that assumption doesn’t reflect what we know of people, what we know of ourselves. If I can be so consumed with my own life in a small building on the campus of a small college that I miss greatness, people likely missed Jesus too.
Until his death made them reconsider.