Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Last Lesson

I recently learned of the death of my mentor in grad school, Jack Forstman. Jack was such a lovely man, with a big, booming laugh and blue eyes that twinkled like stars when he smiled, which was often. He cared deeply about his students, giving them help and support in any way he could. To my great good fortune, Jack took me under his wing early on, asking me to team-teach a course with him, overseeing my dissertation, and having a great deal of patience with me through a difficult patch in my life. He celebrated my triumphs, mourned my sorrows, sent gifts when my child was born and prayers when my husband died. A scholarly man with a list of credentials as long as my arm and a teaching career that most PhD’s would kill for, and yet what comes to mind first when I think of Jack is always his kindness and his laugh. Truly, a lovely man.

In the years since grad school, Jack and I have sometimes gotten together for coffee and conversation. These easy little chats meant a lot to me, and apparently to Jack as well, as his wife Shirley told me many a time when I saw her around town. “Call him, he so enjoys getting together with you,” she would tell me. “I will, I will,” I always said, but in the last couple of years I never did. My old friend fear, all dressed up here as deep embarrassment, was just too much in the way. I didn’t recognize it as such, of course; I just had a vague sense that I would call Jack when I had figured a few things out.

My life hasn’t gone the way I thought it would when I was a student of Jack’s, and in recent years it has strayed farther and farther from that path. All of this translated into an embarrassment that I left unexamined, and left unexamined it grew to include the belief that Jack must share it, too.

Let me be clear: I let the embarrassment of my perceived failure get in the way of human connection; I let fear break into a friendship with a man who was dear to me. This, my friends, is sin: letting fear rule over love. There is little that I actually think of as sinful, but this most definitely fits the bill.

Have you ever let an unexamined fear rule you? Have you ever turned away from a human connection because you did not want to face the fear that stood between you and the other person?

I cannot set straight my relationship with Jack any more. But I can look to other relationships to see where I have let unacknowledged fears get in the way of connection, and work to right them.

I thank you, Jack, for this last lesson. I wish I could call you and tell you about it over coffee, but somehow I think you know, anyway. And somewhere those blue eyes are twinkling.