One of the last conversations I had with Tom took place in the doorway of the Office of Academic Affairs, where I have been working for a few years, having been a full time faculty member in the Speech and Theatre Department before that. Tom asked if he could schedule me for the Monday evening acting class which runs each fall. I told him I couldn’t do it again—I was so busy, and I found that it felt harder and harder to teach each year. He told me that it was very important that I continue to teach, that it was crucial that I continue to know the students of our college through the classroom to best inform me as an administrator. I was persuaded by his conviction, or perhaps, I just didn’t want to disagree in front of Carol and Margot who were standing there, and just didn’t want to argue, and I am so thankful that I didn’t, as this semester has been a very healing one for me. My students are so extraordinary this semester, and I am learning so much from them. Tom was always looking out for me, never ceased mentoring me, and always guided me in the right direction.
A number of years ago, I taught a speech class in which I gave the students a self-inventory exercise designed to provoke them to create speeches came out of their most deeply felt experiences. One of the inventory questions was about mentors, and a student named Patrick began writing about Tom Smith in the inventory, developing the exercise into an essay. Tom had discovered that Patrick intended to be a film maker, and took a great interest in him, spent time with him researching transfer opportunities with him, and connected him to more advanced students. Patrick in about paragraph 3 of his essay said something like “Dr. Smith is a noble man.”
This stopped me.
For one, in that I found the use of the word ‘noble’ when speaking about anyone,
And then, because I realized that I had to agree.
Tom was noble.
When I shared the essay with Tom, I pointed the sentence out to him. I waited for the inevitable sardonic reply for which Tom was so well known. But he too stopped, and took it in and said something like “this makes it all worthwhile. This is why I will never leave the classroom.” “There’s no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.” Pat Conroy in Prince of Tides wrote, “My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.” Thank you, Dr.Smith, for honoring us here for a little while.
I turned 49 today. I didn’t plan anything special with anyone, and am actually taking a business trip later in the day, but I still feel happy–to be alive I guess, I am so lucky to have the family and loved ones that I do, a job that is very meaningful and pays my bills. Despite night sweats, some new wrinkles and occasional twinges of sadness that I never had kids, I am deliriously happy, and am so gifted by God.
On Saturday I plan to run in the NY Road Runner’s Grete’s race, named for Grete Waitz, who won 9 NYC marathons, and was a quiet humanitarian as well, who passed away this year from cancer at age 57. It is a half-marathon, and I think my many Sundays and week nights running on Fire Island have trained me well enough to finish. But more importantly the training has made me more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been, more aware of my own potential and given me many moments of awe, as in the moment when a deer licked my hand and let me pet her, while her fawn gazed at me with the darkest eyes I have ever seen.
created by Sah Tyndale
I am living in my father’s house, and sleep in the bedroom he shared with my mother, who passed away in 2006. She left a beautiful large stained glass piece on the wall of the bedroom. It quotes the Book of Ruth–“Where you go, I go, and your God will be my God.” I looked at it this morning, and wondered what it had meant to her–I know she was a very spiritual person and both she and my father were united in their faithfulness to the Roman Catholic Church. She didn’t convert to be with my father, they always shared the same God.
Last night, I returned to Christ Tabernacle after a long hiatus. The worship was so strong and powerful last night, it was incredible, because the music ministry is beautiful there, but last night, there was hardly any singing, mostly just the church’s body praising. One song that did refrain was “Show Me Your Glory” but Pastor Maria Durso’s voice soared above, declaring “Look on your right, look on your left, look to the front, look to the back–that is My glory saith the Lord.” I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as clearly as the clothes on my back.
I think the Book of Ruth quote suddenly spoke to me this morning (after all, I have been sleeping in that room for 6 months now and never paid attention before) because I have to learn that accepting God is not something to reason through or to rationalize or to overthink. Ruth accepted her mother-in-law’s God and she became faithful. I am sometimes too much of a thinker, too logical and don’t allow myself to just see God’s glory enough. I have a lot of work to do. May I become more like Ruth.
Queensborough Community College is attempting to document 2,011 volunteers who perform an act of service between now and 9/11 in tribute to the heroes and the fallen of 9/11/01. It is participating in the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance tradition that began in 2002.
Please “like” this site: www.facebook.com/Queensborough2011 and post any service you perform on the site.
Your act of service will keep on giving, providing an opportunity for financial support to Queensborough’s Service Learning Initiative on campus, providing authentic civic engagement experiences to students, while providing real service to the community of Queens, NY.
This image is also my gravatar. I took it in Monsumano Terme, Italy on my cellphone while running down the mountain. I see so many images in this photo, flight, blossoming, aging..
I lost a mentor and a colleague and someone I was always half in love with. He was my department chairperson when I was a faculty member. He took good care of me you could say, shepherding me for five years though the tenure process, had a hilarious dry wit, we used to joke for hours sitting side by side at our desks and I wanted to get closer to him but never felt I could. He didn’t come to work for a few days, but it was summer and the secretary was ignored although she feared something was wrong, until he missed a day when he had appointments, no answer to anyone’s calls or emails. Another colleague went to his apt.–the tv was on but he did not answer. They called me, and I called the police, who had to break in, and found his body. Then I had to find his niece and tell her, the only loving relative we knew of, as well as call most of the department and deliver the terrible news. I flew to Chicago the next day for a conference, and met his niece there–so incredible that I was on my way and that she lived there. For a few days, I was at the very center of his death and I was actually grateful to be there, to find a new closeness to him. My new possessiveness is interesting–when others express their own grief, I am jealous. No, no, the loss is mine–mine!
I ran yesterday afternoon from Robert Moses Field 5 to Point O’Woods and back, at least 11.5 miles, but I was right on the beach and the curving coast line added more..my longest run ever. As the sun set, I saw two billowing storm clouds side by side, anvil shaped but the opposite of anvils in their lightness. I slowed to greet a grazing doe who batted her long lashes at me and let me come very close. I wanted my run to be dedicated to him, but it became dedicated to me holding on, to me breathing, to me focusing. I was glad to be alive and began to feel lifted again. Today I find I have released him a bit. It saddens me to think so. I don’t ever want to forget.