After a hectic summer, it was time. The day came, and there was no turning back. As a first-timer at academic conferences, I had no idea what to expect. A combined sense of nervousness and eagerness kept me awake the night before the trip, and so I got to the airport without having slept the whole night prior. This had a double effect. On the one hand, I had a great first six or seven hours of sleep on my way to Madrid. On the other, sleep deprivation seemed to have affected my health a bit. I woke up mid-flight with a cold and conjunctivitis! (I hadn’t had conjunctivitis since I was about 12 years old!). I got to Madrid, and after changing the departure gates to Zürich three times, I ran to my [real] gate 15 minutes after boarding time. Thankfully, I got to the gate just in time, and boarded the aircraft without further issues. First two things I did in Zürich were finding an Apotheke (a pharmacy), and trying to get a Switzerland SIM card. Both enterprises were, in my estimation, barely successful. The pharmacy only sold «natural» eye medicine. The phone store staff factory reset my US phone (because apparently my US provider had blocked the device so that no other SIM cards would work). Thankfully, my wife wisely advised me to take my Mexican phone with me; and voilà! Swiss-Mexican phone to the rescue! I got on a train, then on a bus, prayed that each were the right one, and then by grace got to the right hotel; where Dr. Ross was expecting me.
I still had some rough edges to smooth out for my paper. A 3500 word-count had been suggested to me, and I had 4500 words at the time. Hence, some more editing needed to be done. I stayed awake all-night (again) trying to get to the right count. (Sorry, Dr. Ross). Next day, Dr. Ross and I spend the morning mainly walking close to Lake Zürich, talking about Septuagint, Theology and Life, and even got to a museum which got us talking about how long did dinosaurs walk the earth after the flood. (The answer might surprise you). The conference began after lunch that same day.
The conference took place in the Theologische Fakultät —the Faculty of Theology— of the University of Zürich. This is a special site for Reformed folks, as it is the place where Huldrych Zwingli taught for many years. In addition, Zwingli’s residence is located only a few steps from the Fakultät as well. As an interesting (though, completely unrelated) note, today there’s an antique book-store in front of Zwingli’s residence. This book-store has a couple bookshelves outside (on the street) as an invitation for curious souls like mine. As I walked towards the Fakultät for the congress, I noticed that the first book on the outside shelf, directly in front of Zwingli’s house had the following title: «Mexico: Biography of Power» by the Mexican author Enrique Krauze, who was born on Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16th) of 1947, in Mexico City, which Mexico’s capital. And now the only thing standing between this very much Mexican book and Zwingli’s residence, was a Mexican student. What are the odds?!
At the faculty, I felt as if I were home. Now, this was not because every single room was filled up with books I’ve never read. No. Let me explain. In my hometown, Mérida (México), during the Summer months, temperatures vary between 95°-100° F on a good day. It turns out that that particular weekend, Zürich was experiencing a heat-wave. And, just as in Mérida, air conditioning was nowhere to be found. So, quite literally, I felt at home —which was completely unexpected. And yet, I felt even worse for those professors and scholars coming from more weather-friendly locations around the world, who were noticeably uncomfortable. The first round of expositions blew my mind. The reader must understand, at this point, that I regarded my topic as ‘obscure’ (even for a seminary student who likes obscure stuff). The first session I listened to, interacted with Jerome, the Psalms, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, and Polysystem Theory. It was hard to follow; yet, possible. Then, Dr. Peter Gentry followed with an analysis of colophons in the Syro-Hexapla. By the end of that day, the last presentation involved Old Georgian Old Testament manuscripts being shown in the screen and read aloud as if it were 3rd grade English sentences. (If you have no idea what Old Georgian is, don’t worry, neither had I until after that day). The last lecture was a general address in French concerning a paramount Septuagint scholar who passed away (somewhat) recently. The evening was stimulating and thought-provoking, to say the least.
After the order of the day, a time to rest our brains (mine, at least) was needed. So, back we went to the lake-side to enjoy the evening and relax for a while with Dr. Ross and a good old friend of him, Dr. Mulroney. After not very long, we realized that rain was coming our way. So, without a vehicle —and without umbrellas— we half ride a bus-half ran to Dr. Mulroney’s hotel. This was a great evening. Dr. Mulroney is one of the funniest and friendliest people I’ve met, and extremely kind. He took us to dinner and, a Septuagint scholar himself, we talked about many thing ranging from, Septuagint studies, academic experiences, challenges of ministry during (and after) PhD studies, and even learned about the squeaky sounds Rhinos make (no kidding, hear them yourself). (Dr. James Mulroney, if you ever read this, thanks again!).
That night I kindly decided to spare Dr. Ross from my crazy Mexican late working hours and let him sleep. As a result, I sat at the stairs of the Hotel (for the Lobby would close after 9:30pm), and work there for some time. However, my body had different plans. It turns out that running under the rain with conjunctivitis and a previous cold only makes things worse! (I should have asked a doctor…oh, wait…never mind). Next morning I felt as if a truck had hit me. I was nebulizing, taking a bunch of meds for my sore-throat, waiting for the next hour to use the funky «nature-based» eye drops I got from the Apotheke. Two things would happen that day that I would not have liked to miss. First, Dr. Gentry expected me to have breakfast and talk about further education and Septuagint studies. Second, I was scheduled to deliver my paper presentation that afternoon.
By God’s grace, after yet another bad night, I got up on time to take a bath and find my way to the hotel in which Dr. Gentry would expect me at 7:00 am. I joined not only him but also Dr. Felix Albrecht, who is the head editor for the Major Critical Edition of the Greek Psalter at Göttingen. Again, it was humbling to seat before two giants in Septuagint Studies. They were both kind, attentive, and answered questions that might have felt as if coming from a child for these spectacular minds. While my soul was encouraged by the experience, my body felt worse by the hour.
I decided to stay at a coffee-shop after breakfast to pray and make the final editing to my paper and presentation slides. My paper, for some reason, again was around the 6000 word-count. I did not know what to leave out. I did not know what to say. I did not have many time left. So, pray I did. I honestly asked the Lord at that moment if it was his will for me to participate. I felt somewhat confused, unsure, and physically ill. And yet, I also remembered what had been my constant prayer in the weeks and moths prior: Lord, if this is your will, let me work with excellency for your glory…