I recently read Alan Jacob’s new book, Breaking Bread with the Dead
(Penguin, 2020). It exemplifies an appealing intellectual hospitality, laying out a feast of ideas in the company of everyone from Homer to Zadie Smith. Two thoughts recurred to me: what a generous way of thinking Alan commends, and what an important case he’s making to a wide audience for an education and a life we treasure.
The book honors a depth and weight of mind lacking in a world preoccupied with the latest thing. Without “time to think about anything else than the Now . . . the more weightless we become,” so that it becomes difficult “to stay put even in the mildest breeze from our news feeds.” What we need is personal density, and we acquire this thing so essential for peace of mind and honest perspective in direct proportion to our temporal bandwidth. Developing these ideas from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Alan cites lines from the novel: “‘Temporal bandwidth’ is the width of your presence, your now. . . . The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona.”
Temporal bandwidth and personal density are among the goods we value, even if we use other names for them. We open “minds and hearts to people from the past so that they stand before us three-dimensionally, in all the ways they resemble us and all the ways they do not.” So it is that Breaking Bread with the Dead welcomes Horace, Hume, and Hnath to a table fellowship that also includes Wollstonecraft, Wharton, and Weil. In their company, the book invites better understanding of ourselves and our world.
Yet the steady vision we gain is ordered to different and higher goods than personal density alone. Alan puts it in terms of our “need for a disposition to love: to love the too-often-neglected voices from our past, from the world’s past.” He elaborates:
When we own our kinship to those people, they may come alive for us not just as exemplars of narrowness and wickedness that we have overcome, but as neighbors and even teachers. When we acknowledge that even when they go far astray they do so in ways that we surely would have, had we been formed as they were, we extend them not just attention but love, the very love that we hope our descendants will extend to us.
Travelers who pick up Alan’s book at an airport Hudson’s may guess what we know: at Baylor we break bread with the dead not only because it makes us deeper, wiser people, but because we love God and our neighbors in God.
Here are a few other items of shared interest:
• We await official twelfth-day tallies, but as of the first day of class, the University had 3,627 registered and financially settled new freshmen. With returning student retention also running high, we can celebrate strong undergraduate numbers. To put things in perspective, a national survey over the summer indicated that 40% of college-bound freshmen were likely or very likely not to attend any four-year college this fall. We have much for which to be thankful at Baylor.
• On a related note, record numbers of new students joined us in the HC this fall, especially within the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and the Honors Program. Highest praise and heartfelt gratitude are due to a Recruitment Committee that includes Al Beck
, Diana Castillo
, Courtney DePalma
, Phillip Donnelly
, Charmaine Dull
, Jeff Hunt
, Michael Grossman
, Julia Hejduk
, Melanie Nogalski
, Anne-Marie Schultz
, Erin Stamile
, and Andy Wisely
. Your expertise and cheerful service landed us a great class of incoming students in a truly difficult year. We appreciate you!
• I’ve recently highlighted the membership and work of four other HC committees. The Promotion Standards Committee and the B.Phil. Task Force are recent and short-term by nature. The Curriculum Committee and the Research Leaves/Faculty Awards Committee are long established. Another standing committee is in the works, a Lectures Committee
that will be responsible for recommending and hosting scholars for our annual college-wide lecture series. All regular full-time faculty in the HC are welcome to express interest in service to their program directors or to me.
• Even though the pandemic promises disrupted plans in the weeks and months ahead, I have undaunted aspirations for the HC. Those aspirations are rooted in my prayerful commitment, renewed each day, “to love truth, kindle faith, and cultivate virtue in friendship, study, and service to Christ and neighbor.” I regularly remind myself that the pandemic will not last forever. Teaching and learning behind face masks will come to an end. Zoom sessions that lack the personal warmth of in-person meetings will become a thing of the past. And deferred dreams and bold plans will be ours to pursue again. I’m already working toward that day and I hope you are as well.
• In the meantime, remember that our COVID-19 policies and practices depend on each of us for success. Be vigilant in observing all guidelines for the health of our community, and be bold in asking others to do the same. Visit the University’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information webpage
for regular updates. In addition, any faculty or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 or is presumptively positive must immediately notify his or her program director or supervisor, as well as our Human Resources Consultant, Shelby Easterling
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689