While working on my doctorate, I studied with a brilliant rhetorician. Well known in the collegiate community for many philosophical contributions, he was a gracious, kind professor.
Every time an essay deadline arrived, my professor personally collected the documents (no handing essays forward). As some students scrambled for a stapler or appeared seemingly anxious at submitting the essay, he simply said: “Ladies and gentlemen, it may not be done, but it is due.”
I never asked if he coined the phrase. I know he never imagined the teaching contexts in which that phrase served my students well, or how it affected me.
There are celebrations for professional achievements in my journey. An award is presented, yet I have learned to pause. I stand in gratitude only to see hubris a few steps away. I am reminded: “It’s not done, but it’s due”; it’s an acknowledgement that the award at hand is for the delivery of what remains a work in constant progress: the labor, the achievement, me.
* * *
I check my watch: 7:20 a.m. My classical philosophy classes have a guest speaker, Dr. Evans. Evans is a collaborator in various projects cataloguing the visual displacement of monuments. International organizations are slowly putting up buildings around monuments in Greece and Rome, modern buildings burying timeless monuments and their stories.
A word comes to mind: accountability: an opportunity for personal self-revision in mission and purpose.
When Evans arrives, we speak of his work. He preserves images with specific dimensions of what may soon be lost architecture. As students arrive Evans pats his coat pockets, searching for something.
“I always wonder what I forgot before a presentation,” he says. “It’s never perfect, right? Still, time dictates delivery. I was at a symposium in your alma mater, and I heard a professor say: ‘It may not be done, but it’s due.’ I have applied the concept reflectively to aspects of life.”
* * *
That evening I am reminded how our words ripple through many lives. Where is my professor now? Does he know how many lives became a bit more reflective because of a phrase he shared with us?
Maybe the phrase is a philosophical construct: handing over the imperfect, the potentially “less than” product, when we know there’s room for improvement. Maybe it’s an invitational reminder of human kindness toward others in the collaborative actions to come: “What you have prepared is good; together we can make it great.” Maybe it’s just practical advice. May we explore meaning through a religious lens, revisit the powerful words “It is finished” (John 19:30), and expand on the complexities of what began once He spoke those words?
My long day has come down to prayer and sleep. I crawl under covers as a word comes to mind: accountability—an opportunity for personal self-revision in mission and purpose. A way to preserve the growing dimensions of spiritual growth and the stories that are part of it.
God calls us to be our best. We are accountable for every action that supports the process of self-revision toward a reverent, trusting heart and obedience to our Savior. “It’s not done, but it’s due”—a start of the obvious: acceptance? Incomplete and imperfect as my work may be, He accepts it.
At the end of any day: What have we done that was due?
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.