I stood outside a room tonight and looked in. The people sat in their seats, dressed in their finest. They gathered to honor you and a few others, sir.
Forgive me, sir, but I feel the need to recount our limited past. A decade ago, I was a drunken buffoon stumbling his way through college. As my advisor, you helped me pick classes and chat about T. S. Eliot. You would often launch into long recitations of Mr. Eliot and Mr. Yeats and Mr. Pound and laugh when I rolled my eyes because I did not like poetry all that much. You were always there to listen and to laugh and to encourage.
I learned from you the value of not only what is being said, but how it is said. I learned that every word is precious and should not be wasted, but when you could not come up with the proper word you could just make one up.
You taught me to respect the words and the person expressing him/herself with those words even if I disagreed with the topic or the person. This is the reason I call every author “Mr.” and “Ms.,” not because you did but so I would always remember that these were people. Authors were people that ate and drank and slept and shat and history remembers them because they put words down on paper, if for no other reason.
I am not sure you ever saw this website or anything I ever did. I remember when you signed the advisement form for my graduate school you called the decision “pragmatic.” You also asked me what I wanted to do. I do not remember what I said, but I bet it had something to do with libraries. I should have said “write.” You told me to keep writing anyway.
Memories are flooding back now. More and more, I am remembering the classes. The “Survey of Decadent Literature” where we had to beg the poor Christian girl to hang in there as we read De Sade and you finally passed her and said she did not have to come to class as long as she did not withdraw. The Dorian Gray class I had to withdraw from after I had a nervous breakdown of sorts. You were kind and signed the paper even after offering to pass me if I just did one more extra credit paper and I refused.
In the past year I have seen you many times, either in the bar or out behind your building smoking. Several times we waved, but we never spoke. Thanks for being the one teacher of mine that would buy me a drink or bum me a cigarette, by the way. I am sorry, I never went over and touched base, said hi, or told you about what I have been doing, building, trying.
You believed in your students, more importantly, you liked your students, sir. Thank you for that. I wish I could have shone you what I a mess I have turned out not quite to be. You would have laughed at that. At least to humor me a little, anyway.
So I stood outside a room tonight and looked in. I stared at the people dressed in their finest, there to memorialize you and a few others. I looked down at my wrinkled button up, my faded khaki pants and broken Converse and decided not to go in.
I came home, sir, and wrote you a letter instead. I will not debate whether or not you can read it; that’s not what I do. What I do is hope the next time I see someone who influenced my life in ways that you did, subtle and distinctly, I will tell them and thank them.
And the next beer I drink will be tipped toward you, sir.
"Do I dare disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."
-T. S. Eliot, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock