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Gone and going

A colleague of mine died of cancer almost two years ago. He was nine years younger than I. He was the chairman of the Finance Department in our university's School of Business, and he was the first person from outside our School of Journalism to introduce himself when I started teaching journalism in 2001. Both of our schools were in the same building.

The year after he died, the School of Business moved into a shiny new building. All of their faculty offices in our building now are empty.

Yesterday, I was walking down the hallway where my colleague's office was to get some office supplies from a storage room. His office door for some reason was ajar, so I went inside. Most of the furniture was gone. His aircraft carrier of a desk remained, but it had been pushed up against the wall. A printer sat haphazardly on top of a filing cabinet. His desk chair had been rolled into a corner of the room.

I looked around. One of the ceiling tiles was sagging. Debris was scattered on the worn tan carpet: A stick-type rollerball pen with a missing cap. Plastic wrappers like those that come with after-dinner peppermints. Thumbtacks. Paper clips. An old strip of masking tape. Clots of dust. A dime and four pennies.

My colleague—no, let me say it like it was: He was my friend, and he was brilliant. When the news contained financial stories I didn't understand, he'd explain them quickly, in an easy-to-understand way—a considerable feat, considering my innumeracy. He was funny the way journalists are funny: irreverent, with more than a trace of dark humor. In fact, I often told him he was so cynical that he would have made a good journalist. He was a contrarian: for example, he and his friends would have Jarts tournaments long after the lawn darts had been outlawed—at dusk, no less. He'd invariably poke his head into my office and crack wise as he passed. His libertarian politics challenged me. He had a serious side, too, and we had many long conversations about the sorts of things college professors grumble and worry about.

I cried after he died and still miss him terribly. In fact, from time to time, I quote several things he said. But as I looked around his office yesterday, I realized that in not too many years, people won't remember who occupied that office, and no one will remember him except his students.

And then I thought, the day will come when not even students will remember any of us. As the Zen saying goes, "The seed never sees the flower," but still ...

I picked up a penny from the office floor—something for luck, something to remember him by—and then stepped out. I went back to my office and put the penny in my top desk drawer.

I don't think I'll walk down that hallway again.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 24th, 2015 10:21 pm (UTC)
You really hit me where I live this week. Wednesday I buried my best friend that I have known for 55 years. Like you and the love you had for your friend, I too loved him like a brother. One of my friends from our group of six asked me if I could speak about him and make it through without breaking down. I told him it did not matter, to not show the depth of my sorrow and grief was disingenuous to the respect and privilege it was to be his friend. As I progressed from the wonderful memories and moved to the more emotional part of my words, my voice cracked and as I sought to compose myself, memories flashed through my mind like a VH 1 video. Until then I had never heard the sound of a heart break, it is not a sound I shall ever forget There is no need to apologize for genuine emotion, there is no need to avoid the pain of loss, and there is no value in worrying about who will remember him as long as you do for now. I assume that as my friend sits in my heart, so to does yours.
A righteous man dwells in the house of the Lord forever and ever.
He will be remembered! Holiday
Jan. 24th, 2015 11:04 pm (UTC)
I was by no means tight with Yogi, but whenever I talked to him, I felt like I was with a friend. Not a bad way to be remembered.
Jan. 25th, 2015 05:36 am (UTC)
In 2005 I drove to Portland, OR for the funeral of a woman who had been my closest friend for many years. On the way up there I stopped in Eugene, where she had gone to college. I had visited her there a few times when she lived in the dorms and later in an apartment. We wrote letters - God, did we write letters. Hundreds and hundreds of letters.

I drove onto the boulevard in front of the dorms, parked and looked over at them for a long time. The same old University of Oregon duck logos were on all the restaurants and shops. The students looked the same. In a few months many of those students would move out of the dorms and be replaced in the fall by new students, who wouldn't know or care who lived in their dorm room before.

I put "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in the CD player - that had been one of our favorites - and got the hell out of Eugene. I love that city but I couldn't spend another minute there.
Jan. 25th, 2015 02:34 pm (UTC)
You've said a lot in those three paragraphs. Anyone who reads your comments surely will relate to them.
Feb. 1st, 2015 10:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, but he will be remembered by those whose lives he touched - like you - so there's no need for his memory to live on in an empty office. His memory lives in you, not the space he occupied at work.
Feb. 1st, 2015 11:15 pm (UTC)
After reading your comment, I realized I had used the empty office as a metaphor, without realizing it. I do that a lot: write something and then ask, "Where the hell did that come from?"
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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