Column: The lesson
It was my first year in graduate school. And my first class. The teacher introduced himself and I took an immediate dislike of him. He wasn’t what I expected. First of all, he wasn’t a bona fide professor. He was a teaching assistant, for heaven’s sake. I chose to attend this university on the recommendation of a professor at The College of William and Mary—where I received my undergraduate degree—who assured me the University of Colorado had excellent profs in my chosen field of study.
But that wasn’t the only reason I was disappointed: He didn’t look like a teacher! His hair stuck out all over, his nose was mashed to his face like a fighter’s, his clothes didn’t match and he wore one of the most odious bowties I had ever seen.
Well, as you can surmise from these dumb comments, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, this really naive, dimwitted phase of my education soon expired. After two or three of his classes, I realized how lucky I was to have Dave as a professor. As a matter of fact, we became good friends. I learned he had grown up on a farm, had been a boxer before he entered the army, and had been decorated for bravery several times. I also became friends with his German-born wife and small son.
After Dave completed his doctorate he took a teaching position at a college in Indiana. I never saw him again. But several years later, a small package arrived from Dave. In it was a book of poetry he had just published. He attached a note saying he wanted me to remember him and thought I’d enjoy reading his “stuff.”
His book is still as precious to me as any in my library. I cherish it as much for what he taught me about human beings and life as for his beautiful poetry. Because I got to watch Dave play with his son several times, there is one poem in particular that meant a great deal to me then, and still does. By coincidence, his book arrived soon after the birth of our son.
I was so busy in my mind, musing over love— How could I tell mankind that this was the lesson, the only lesson to learn— All other lessons but preludes to this? Suddenly—I was in darkness! Someone had closed the door and turned out the light— Upon me! I rushed upon the door, striking it with my might And it burst upon the child who stood aghast, Holding his arm that took the shock of the door. I saw the gathering tears in the wellsprings of his eyes, Heard through the sobbing his voice, saying— “I just wanted to play—there is no one to play with.” I touched him and I said, “I’m sorry son.” Where had I been honest, I should have said, “You should not interrupt genius, the creator of love —you should not interrupt me.” He said again, “I just wanted to play.” And “with” him I played and he “with” me Until my storm as gone Until his play was tired. And in the night when he slept sound, As an extraordinary man I wrote of extraordinary love in an extraordinary way.