Saturday, April 28, 2012
Mountain Snow and Memories
Outside my window today, Mt. Mansfield has a fresh coat of snow high above the tender little leaves on the birches and poplars. I love the contrasts of this time of year. I love the tenaciousness of the fading season and the triumph of the coming one. I love Vermont.
It's been a strange week. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at my old college, where my daughter is preparing to graduate. I've been caught in one of those time warps that convince me time is not a line, but a spiral, constantly looping back around on itself. Watching my daughter perform her senior recital brought me right back to watching her father perform his on the same stage.
A few days later, I sat in the audience of the Honors Convocation and watched young men and women receive awards and scholarships in the memory of long ago professors. But the problem was that the professors now being immortalized by endowments weren't just names to me. Margaret Ottum was my vibrant science teacher who drove an old wreck of a car in the name of a brand new idea at the time -- recycling. Albert Swinchoski was a dear, sweet old violin player who taught music with a twinkle in his eye. George Domke taught world history sitting in a chair in front of us, just talking, for an hour and a half at a time, and picking up next class right where he'd left off, with nary a note card to be seen. And now they're all... names of scholarships.
My last year at school, I received an award in the memory of a writing teacher and a writing student who had both died tragically. I remember being thrilled and proud as I walked across the stage, a young writer bursting with ideas about to be unleashed on the world. I did make the effort to find out about the men whose names were on my certificate, but their lives, and deaths, seemed long ago and far away compared to the fact that I had just won an award given "...to the student judged to be the best writer in the B.F.A. program."
But this week, sitting there, I could feel the ghosts in the room. As I watched the young lady being honored with the same award this year, looking thrilled and proud and bursting with ideas about to be unleash on the world, I wondered if she knew any more than I did about the two men who had died, or if it might have occurred to her to wonder who else had won that award in the past, and what she might think if she knew one of them was sitting there, watching her. I thought about introducing myself to her later and congratulating her. But everything I might say seemed so trite -- stick with it, it's worth it, it might take you twenty years to get that first novel published, but don't give up -- all those things I heard back then but didn't believe. The world was waiting with bated breath for me and my first novel, after all. This young woman would have just smiled and nodded politely, and then hurried off to join her young friends who were also about to set the world on fire.
I walked out of the auditorium, cramped after sitting for two hours, feeling a bit like the ghosts I could feel around me. Before I left the building, I stepped into the large art gallery with the spacious windows overlooking the campus, the room where I'd given my senior reading. It, especially, was full of ghosts.
I paused a moment and looked around at them. Then I whispered very softly,
"Don't worry. I've still got my eyes open."