Tag Archives: Wesleyan College

Love For the Sheer Joy of Loving


Wesleyan College lost a great light this weekend–our chaplain, Reverend William Hurdle. For seventeen years, he encouraged and counseled and delighted in every young woman who needed an ear or a shoulder or a hug.

Reverend Hurdle joined the staff after I graduated, but I’ve had the pleasure of being in his presence many times at college events. Over the last few years, he had grown weaker–he would be seated on the stage already instead of processing in with the faculty and staff in all their regalia. As he made his way to the podium to say an invocation or grant a benediction, his body showed the signs of age and illness, but his voice kept its gentleness.

There are a thousand broken hearts now that he is gone. He truly was the kindest, gentlest, most loving man. I didn’t know before today that he was on Okinawa at the age of seventeen.

Well, none of these words come close.

I’ve been thinking about his “motto” that so many of his friends have quoted this weekend–“Love for the sheer joy of loving.” Not because Jesus told you to, or because you want to improve your own karma, or to pay back some debt. Love for the JOY of loving. Love for the goodness it brings right now, to you.

I was sad today, so Vivi and I took our Kindles and went on a little adventure. We stopped by Trader Joe’s and bought an armload of roses–green and red and white. We ate Belgian frites with feta sauce and read our books. She’s reading “The YoYo Mystery” and I’ve begun “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We sat at the tall table that we can’t sit at when Carlos is with us. While we were sitting there side by side, she looked up, all freckles and brown curls, and said, “Mama?”


Before she could even start her question, I heard Reverend Hurdle’s voice in my mind and heart, “Love for the sheer joy of loving.” That’s exactly the way I feel when I hear myself being called “Mama.” A simple joy, nothing complicated and not towards any end. Just love.

It reminds me of a talk my friend, Robin, and I had once about Jesus’ love. Even though I am an atheist, I don’t mind talking about Jesus because I think he got a lot of things right. (I don’t talk about religion much because I don’t have any interest in changing how others believe and I don’t plan to change my beliefs either…now back to our story). Robin was trying to reconcile the idea that Jesus loves EVERYONE equally, regardless of how they behave. Hitler, Ghandi, Beyonce and Mr. Rogers all stand in the same line. So Robin had finally found a way that she could picture this unmeasured, inclusive love. She stopped talking and simply spread her arms wide, like a mother would do when her child starts running to her for a hug. That was her idea of what the love of Jesus looked like. Made sense to me.

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of Reverend Hurdle, arms flung wide, come one, come all.

May those who loved him hold his memory as a blessing. Here’s the lovely blessing I remember hearing from him:


Shine Through

candle-139120_640Saturday morning, it was my privilege as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association to hear the beautiful sound of almost 1000 people sigh in unison.  I’ll never forget it as long as I live.  And it all started with me eavesdropping on a couple of little old ladies from a bathroom stall.

This was Alumnae Weekend, when classes return to campus to celebrate reunions; this year we welcomed the classes ending in 4 and 9.  We even celebrated two members of the class of 1939 who returned for their 75th reunion.  There’s a special luncheon on Friday for the “Golden Belles.”  That’s the class celebrating its 50th reunion–this year, the Class of 1964.

Before my duties began at the luncheon–the welcoming of dignitaries, the reading of the roll call, the recounting of their exploits five years before I was born–I ducked into the ladies room.  Three woman stood by the sinks, washing hands and fixing hairdos.  They didn’t notice me.

hands-195657_640They said how good it was to see each other.  And how sad it was that some faces were gone.  One said, “Time has passed so quickly!”  Another laughed, “How did we get so old?”  Then the third voice said, “But you know?  When I see my friends, even after all these years, their young faces shine through.”

That was the line that made the whole auditorium sigh when I told the story the next morning.  We Wesleyannes gather, every spring, for the highlight of our Annual Meeting–Candle Lighting.  Each senior chooses a Wesleyan alumna to light her candle, the symbolic act that marks her entry into the Alumnae Association.  It might be her big sister, her sister, her mother, a teacher, a mentor, a friend.  My candlelighter back in 1990, Mrs. Anne Strozier Threadgill, was in the audience Saturday with her sisters in the Class of 1949.  She was my English teacher in high school, and she taught my mother and father as well.

I lit the first candle.  Then, as the organ played, the light traveled, person to person, from the stage to the seats, from the front row to the back.  We stand in the twilight of the auditorium, all quiet and together, decade upon decade of proud Wesleyannes.  We join in a responsive reading of the Benson Charge, which was written by Catherine Brewer Benson, Class of 1840.


Part of the Charge reads:  “You of the Class of 2014 who are about to join the band of 9,000 whose privilege it has been to spend their years on the Wesleyan campus–remember that the privilege has been granted to comparatively few persons.  Remember that, as Emerson said, ‘large advantages bind you to larger generosity;’ and you owe it to the world to give to others the best that is in you.”

That’s what I treasure about Alumnae Weekend, getting back in touch with the privilege and responsibility of being a Wesleyanne.

In the glow of the candlelight, our young faces shine through.

This is the place where we will always be known.

This is the place where we will always find home.

The Next Right Thing

I have been stretching myself pretty thin for about a month and tonight, it caught up with me and bit me in the tail.  Between launching projects at the new job, the fundraising for Leukemia Society, the mothering, the blogging, the board presiding, the pool vacuuming, the home construction projects, the feeding of the children and the balancing of budgets and setting up play dates and remembering to wash my hair…I am OUT.

Tomorrow at 11:ish, I get to don academic regalia in the Burden Parlor at Wesleyan College, along with the President of the College, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, the Provost, the college Chaplain, the President of the senior class and the President of Student Government.  I am the President of the Alumnae Association.  I love it.  I love love love love love this convocation.  Fall convocation, the formal beginning of the school year at the first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women.  We started in 1836 and haven’t missed a year since.

Wesleyan College 2012

Wesleyan College Fall Convocation 2012

We will line up in a double column according to the instructions pinned to either side of the wide doors.  A Junior Marshall will nervously guide us out the lobby and down the steps of the Porter Building, where we will link up with the grander procession.  We will fall in with the faculty, who walk draped in the velvet and satin they have earned through decades of study.  We will walk between the senior class in their new black robes and plain mortar boards.  We will be led by 30 students from 30 different countries who carry the flags of their homelands.

The Candler organ will make the air shake with joy.  We will march down the aisles, through the crowds of first years, sophomores, juniors.  We will take the stage and stand as the seniors file in and take their seats.  A fanfare from the organ and the ceremony will begin.

And in those first few minutes, I’m supposed to stand up and say a few words–bring greetings on behalf of the 8000 alumnae who have gone before this senior class.  And I.  Got.  Nuthin.

Last year, I realized during my drive down there that I had written a speech with lots of references to the WRONG class.  The seniors were Red Pirates and I thought they were Golden Hearts (I can’t even begin to explain right now).  So I improvised a little talk about “ships” like scholarships and internships and fellowship.  It was PERFECT.  This year’s senior class is a Purple Knight class–my own class!  I know their traditions inside and out.  I know the words to the song, the rowdiest of cheers, the hand signals.  

But inspiring words?  Nuthin.

So tonight I was in a swivet.  A tizzy.  A kerfuffle.  And it was just making my panic worse.

Then I remembered a piece of advice from my friend, Jean.  “Do the next right thing.”

I don’t have to figure it all out at once.  Just do the next right thing.  I can’t sit here and know that everything will go perfectly tomorrow.  I can’t nail it down.  But I can do the next right thing.

And that right thing is going to bed.

I’m going to bed with that phrase in my head, and I’ll think of something to tell those young women tomorrow morning.  I’ll see my friend, Virginia, in her professor robes.  I’ll see my friend, Auburn, at her first formal convocation.  I’ll see Annabel and Parrish and Lauren and Cathy and Ruth and Vivia and Susan and I will remember that I am one of them.  I am a Wesleyanne.

Wesleyan College 2011

Wesleyan Women, 2011

College didn’t teach me how to do everything.  It taught me how to discern the right thing.  It taught me how to dare.  It taught me how to improvise.  Wesleyan taught me to believe in myself back then and it reminds me to believe in myself now every time I step on the campus.

So I’m going to rest and tomorrow I will do the next right thing.

The Teacher and the Professor

Virginia Bowman Wilcox, PhD

Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox

I am tickled pink for my Wesleyan College sister, Virginia Bowman Wilcox, who was just named one of the 20 best education professors in the state of Georgia!  She’s come home to Wesleyan and currently serves as the head of our Education department, where she funnels all her genius and passion for teaching into the next generations of classroom leaders.


Let me tell you a story about Virginia’s early years in school and a teacher who made a deep impact on her for years.  Names have been changed because…well, the usual reason.

Virginia was in first grade, Mrs. Fineman’s class, when she made the magical connection between the words printed on the page and the story they were telling–she discovered that she could READ.  She was ecstatic!  But there weren’t many books in Virginia’s house.  Just two–the phone book and her mother’s Bible.  Virginia hungered for books.

Mrs. Fineman had a shelf filled with books in her first grade classroom.  She told the children, “These are my books.  I bought them with my own money.  You are never to touch them without my permission and they will never leave this room.”  In the way of small children, Virginia knew the difference between right and wrong…but she wanted to read more than anything.  Each afternoon, she found a way to sneak two of Mrs. Fineman’s books into her bookbag.  She carried them carefully back to her bookless house and told her mother that reading them was part of her homework.  The next day, she brought them back to Mrs. Fineman’s book shelf without a scratch or a smudge.  From September to January, Virginia and her mother spent each evening snuggled close together over the purloined books.

But in January….

This is the part of the story where I interrupted Virginia and squealed, “Mrs. Fineman knew all along, didn’t she?  She was LETTING you sneak those books home!”  Shush, shush, Ashley….let the story unfold.  

One afternoon, Virginia had two books in her book bag and was headed towards the bus.  Mrs. Fineman ran after her with a permission slip that had to be signed and returned the next day.  Virginia held out her hand for the paper, but Mrs. Fineman insisted on putting it directly in the book bag so it wouldn’t be lost.  That’s when she discovered the books, HER BOOKS.  She snatched them out of Virginia’s hands and stormed off.  She didn’t need to ask any questions.  This child was stealing.

By the time broken-hearted Virginia got to her house, her mother had already been called by the school principal and had left work early to deal with her daughter.  Even after she understood that Virginia had never intended to steal the books, she punished her daughter anyway for breaking the rule and lying to her mother about homework.  There were no books to read that night.  The next day at school, Mrs. Fineman chastised Virginia in front of the whole first grade then made her move her desk into a corner of the room so she could be ostracized from the group for her crime.

Virginia stopped reading.  She didn’t read another book until she was in sixth grade.  She faked her way through book reports and did the bare minimum on assigned reading.  Mrs. Fineman’s punishment still stung.  Luckily for all of us, Virginia slipped back into reading when she found a book on the school bus and couldn’t resist it anymore.

Obviously, the story didn’t end there.  Virginia went on to be the first person in her family to graduate from college, Wesleyan College.  She excelled in school and got her degree in Early Childhood Education.  While teaching for her day job and starting her family, she finished her Master’s and her PhD at Auburn University.  Virginia landed her dream job–professor of Education–then worked her way up to department chair.  She’s boundless.

And this next part of the story is why I love and respect her so very much.  Back in May, Virginia wanted to do a Kentucky Derby themed fundraiser at the business that she and her husband own, North Macon Crossfit.  She contacted the director of the equestrian center at Wesleyan to see if there was some project that could be funded with a couple hundred dollars.  The director came up with a perfect idea!  There was a young girl who hung out at the stable and helped care for the horses.  She wanted to attend the equestrian summer camp but her family didn’t have the money.  Enter Virginia and her generous friends and her giving heart.  They raised the money and made arrangements to surprise the girl with a scholarship to the summer camp she yearned for.

That little girl’s last name?  Fineman, of course.  Granddaughter of the first grade teacher who hadn’t taken the time to find out why Virginia had “stolen” all those books and returned them without a trace.  A teacher who couldn’t bend her rule to help a child who needed a little boost.  But Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox, Professor of Education, gave a little girl a leg up towards reaching her dream.  I asked her what she felt when she discovered the connection, if she wanted to wreak any kind of vengeance on Mrs. Fineman.  Nope, not a bit.  

Nothing stops Virginia.  She’s just that kind of kind.  

Scientia Et Pietas

Tonight I had dinner with my friend, Tara, who writes “I Might Need a Nap.”   There ain’t nothing in this world that two fishbowl margaritas (both mine!) and a three-hour talk can’t fix.  Well, maybe not full on fix but at least make a far sight better.

Pardon me, gentle readers–it seems that tequila makes me talk like Ellie Mae Clampett.  I shall clutch my pearls at myself forthwith.

We have known each other since Governor’s Honors in 1985 and we both ended up at Wesleyan College.  We talked about raising kids, the fish tacos in Hawaii, ICU waiting room chairs, Jesus, cheer moms, first husbands, high grass snakes, The Young and the Restless, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and churches that rely on PowerPoint.  We talked until my voice gave out.

I wrote this haiku once when I lost my voice:

I croak, squeak then try to speak.
My little one asks,
“Mom, are you leaving your voice?”

Word were new to Vivi at the time and she got “losing” and “leaving” mixed up…but dang if she didn’t hit on something.  I don’t mind the periodic losing of my voice–I’ve usually run it into the ground through excessive use, not neglect.  Losing my voice gives me a reason to hush, to rest, to listen.

But leaving my voice?  Oh, I’ve done that too.  Those are the times that make me sad when I look back.  The times I didn’t speak up for myself.  The times I didn’t ask for what I needed.  The times I left a question unasked.  The times I witnessed injustice and didn’t say anything.  Or the times I saw injustice and ONLY said something about how wrong it was but didn’t do anything to fix it.  Those are times when I left my voice.

Bare Bulb Coffee and the Women of Wesleyan...two groups that are changing the world for the better

Bare Bulb Coffee and the Women of Wesleyan…two groups that are changing the world for the better

As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, Tara pressed a small gift into my hand.  She said, “We’re both red clay girls and I thought of you because this is made from red clay.”  I looked at the small medallion under the street light and thought at first that it was an alien head (might have been the two margaritas talking…and just for the record, I was walking back to my hotel on the other side of the parking lot).   Tara works with an organization called Bare Bulb Coffee.  It’s a coffee shop/community center/art gallery/church/social service organization with a Quiche of the Day and an actual plan for righting some of the wrongs in the world.  Nikki Collins McMillan is the Ministry Director and Head Percolator…and another Wesleyan Woman.

The shape on the medallion and the name of Bare Bulb Coffee both hearken back to the coffee farmers who grow the fair-trade beans used by Bare Bulb.  Tara told me, “In the homes in that region, you walk into their houses and there’ll be a string with a bare light bulb hanging down.”  I croaked, “Oh yeah!  My Grandmama Eunice had one of those over the dining room table!”  Tara replied, “No…that’s the thing.  There’s no electricity wired to the houses.  It’s just a string.  The bare bulb is a symbol of hope.”

On the Wesleyan College seal, the official motto of the college reads Scientia Et Pietas–“knowledge and responsibility.”  Tara and Nikki have taken their knowledge and translated it into service to those among us who are underserved.  I can’t think of two better examples of Wesleyan alumnae who are making a difference in this world.  They’re using their voices and that gives me hope.

Also on the Wesleyan College seal, the seated figure of Wisdom holds forth a laurel crown.  Above her, a ribbon bears the words “Niminum ne crede colori.”  The phrase is from Virgil and I was told back then that it meant “put not your faith in outward appearances.”  I’ve always interpreted this as “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but tonight when I looked up the translation again, it turns out that Virgil addressed this line to a lovely youth.  The words in their full context mean:  “Oh, handsome child, trust not too much in your youthful color.”  So I guess that’s more of a “pretty is as pretty does” or “looks won’t last, honey.”

These women?  Nikki and Tara?  They are women I first met when we were all handsome children glowing with youthful color.  They’ve grown older and wiser.  They give me hope.  They make me proud.  They make me want to do more with my voice.

The Day After the Weekend

Going Home

This was a good weekend. 

Big things happened.  Small things happened.  We had glitter and balloons and cupcakes and tooth fairies and horses and pirates and knights and a cat who lives in a library.  Superhero capes made out of pink sleeping bags.  Fresh blackberries as big as my thumb.  Sneaking cups of wine in a dorm room with women who have been my friends for more than half my life.  A quiet blue heron sailing over a heart-shaped lake.  Teaching my girls to hold their hands flat when offering fresh spring grass to the velvety lips of a horse. 

I took my girls back to Wesleyan College for a mother/daughter weekend.  Taking your children back to a place where you learned to be an adult is a strange rabbit hole of a time warp.  Having to yell, “Don’t forget to wipe, flush and wash your hands!” down the same dorm hallway where I had to yell “Man on the HAAAALLLLLLL!” in 1988 is disconcerting. 

Wesleyan is the place where I made an intentional decision to call myself a “woman” instead of a “girl” in the fall of 1989.  Actually, the term was forced upon me.  I had taken a position as an RA in the freshman dorm–3rd floor Persons, where we ALL KNEW they put the wild girls.  We RAs came to campus a week early to learn the ropes of being part of the student life team.  Our boss informed us that we were to refer to our residents as women, not girls, as a way of helping them make the transition from thinking of themselves as children to thinking of themselves as responsible adults.  Okaaaaaaaay. 

It was awkward at first.  As a Southerner, I was used to three ages of womanhood:  girl, lady, little old lady.  It seemed like calling someone a “woman” was too abrupt or rude, robbing them of the ladyhood honorific.  Like I was acknowledging only their age, not their manners, social standing, comportment….oh.  It’s as if we were supposed to acknowledge these gi–women purely removed from all assessment of their ladylike behavior.  Huh.  Go figure.  It felt like I was putting on a mask when I called myself a woman.  About as convincing as when I put a towel on my head and called myself Cher.  But it WORKED.  Over the course of that senior year, I started thinking of myself as a woman because I called myself a woman.  It’s like the difference between being alone and being on my own

I can still be a lady, or a girl or a little old lady while I am being a woman.  Just this weekend, I have been the tooth fairy, a mom, an alumna, a friend, a mentor, an official, a darling dear, a booster, a donor–all parts of being a woman. 

It was the kind of weekend that will take me at least until Wednesday at lunch to sort out, but here I am on Monday.  I feel like I am walking around with my head floating just above my shoulders, like a balloon losing its helium.   My head will catch up and settle itself down into the rest of me.  But it might be Wednesday before that happens.