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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.


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.

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"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

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"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

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• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”


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