I always enjoy attending the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting (this year in Atlanta), but when days are long and folks get tired, it’s easy to become a bit ill. I’m not ordinarily a cantankerous person, but sometimes fall victim to grousing over things like walking a long way to hear a paper with an interesting title, only to discover it is an exercise in trivia or academic gibberish. Today I decided to see how often I could turn potential negative experiences into positive ones.
I started with a morning walk, but had not brought an appropriate coat for 35 degree weather. Instead of complaining, I just cut the walk short and stopped in a sunny spot to admire the bright yellow leaves of a ginkgo tree against a glorious blue sky.
As I approached an outdoor entrance to the Peachtree Center mall and food court, I noticed an apparently homeless man shivering near the entrance. It was tempting to give him a wide berth or decline to meet his gaze, but I decided instead to say hello, and when he asked for money for a cup of coffee, I invited him inside, learned his name, and bought Alonzo a hot breakfast.
Hustling on to the first meeting I had chosen for the morning (Egyptology and Ancient Israel), I had to cross one of several narrow skybridges that cross between the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton hotels. The traffic was clogged because several folks had run across old friends and stopped in the middle of the bridge to visit. Instead of getting ill, I chose to be glad for their happy reunion.
I intended to eat lunch at Underground Atlanta, but after hiking down there, it was closed — no disappointment needed — that gave me time to expand my walk to include the Olympic park, which was bustling with activity prior to a Falcons game.
Along the way, a teenage girl approached me with a plastic bag full of hard candy, and asked for a dollar to help her earn some sort of talent scholarship. I could have been annoyed, but gave her the dollar and told her to keep the candy.
By the time I got back, I had a blister on my right heel, but chose to be thankful that my new right hip allows me to walk far enough to earn a blister.
Back at the conference, I arrived too late to get a seat for a fascinating session on “Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Bible,” so I stood in the back. A large guy in front of me was hogging two seats and knew I was there, but never offered to move his jacket and bag from the empty chair beside him so I could sit. Instead of getting ill, I took it as an opportunity to burn extra calories by standing for two-and-a-half hours while occasionally fitting in some physical therapy exercises.
As a bonus, while standing in the back I could periodically check on the Duke-Georgetown game score without giving offense.
I made a point of getting to the four o’clock session early enough to get a seat (whew!) while learning about Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology.
That’s a good enough place to draw this to a close — so happily turning lemons to lemonade is starting to sound monotonous, but in a rewarding sort of way. You might want to try it sometime.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.