Dear Ms. Vreeland,
In my life, there have been many teachers. There were the ones who made me connect the nails of my thumb and forefinger through the skin on my forearm because it was the only way I could stay awake. On the other end of the spectrum were the teachers who were closer in behavior to a BFF, or at least a peer. In between were various others who made learning a chore, joy, or nothing at all. You, however, fell into none of these categories. Even now, so many years later, I think of you as an force unto yourself. You didn’t make subjects fun, or interesting. You gave them a life that I could neither ignore or avoid. And that was how I saw you, too.
That life force, that exuberance, was still present on the last day that I saw you. Despite the tears in your eyes and the waver in your voice, your existence was not subdued. You hugged each of us in turn, and made us promise to come back to visit and tell you what we learned.
“Not next year,” you clarified, “or even the year after that. Come back and tell me what you learned. Not in your classes, but in life.”
We all promised that we would.
Lesson #1: We make the time for things that are important to us. We make excuses for everything else…or repent at leisure.
I always meant to return. Every year that passed, I thought about what had transpired, and what I would tell you. Also with every passing year, I realized that I had discovered something new, and my previous intentions now paled in the face of that knowledge. I never stopped thinking, analyzing, and planning what I would say when next we met.
Time passed and created a gulf almost as wide as the miles that separated us. The farther I went, the more I thought about how exciting it would be to eventually make my way back, and the things I could tell you. In 2015, I finally came back to my home state. A mere 500 miles separated us, but scheduling conflicts prevented me from making the trip to any of your author events, which had become fewer and farther between. You had also retired from teaching a number of years prior, so dropping by my alma mater wasn’t an option. Someday, however, we would have a chance to speak.
In 2017, before “someday” could arrive, you were gone. I believe that the news article said that you had passed during surgery. That was sad for me. One of the greatest inspirations of my life suddenly no longer walked on the same earth that I do. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that it is sad for you. What happens after we die? I know what I was taught growing up in a Catholic household. I’ve since formed my own thoughts and opinions on what I hope awaits on the day my eyes close, and I let out one final – perhaps wheezy (sucks to my ass-mar!) – breath. I don’t purport to know how it works for anyone else. For you? I can’t imagine that your light could ever just stop. I feel as if the piece about having an astrophysicist speak at a funeral applies to you.
I wish I had seen you before you departed. I’m sorry for not working harder to make this happen.
This post is a work in progress. As long as there is breath in my body and spite in my soul, I will never stop learning. I will periodically update this.