I heard rumors that my Philosophy Professor, Robert Nielsen, was retiring, and felt a great desire to hear his traditional end-of-year recitation of Beckets Last Sermon, of which here is an excerpt …
I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again …
The rumors were true. After for years of teaching, today was his last class, and I having been introduced to them as the first person in the history of the college to declare a major in Philosophy. The beginning and end of an era, with no immediate replacement in sight … if that were even really possible. The hugs and mournful faces of the students said it all, and not without the hinting of a tear on my part to watch and share their sentiment. A few confided before class (while the Professor was out) that they would have changed majors to Philosophy if he had planned to stay.
He’s retired, not dead, I remind myself many times over the course of the day. But it feels to me as if the world has suffered a great loss and will almost unknowingly bear it. Or perhaps this is a projection of my own soul, fearing the extinction of those who so effectively cause others to truly think.
But this is of course personal. People who do not know him cannot understand the affinity afforded him by those who do. He taught that education is synonymous with change in a person, and he changed many people’s lives in ways both mundane and profound, but always sublime.
He gave me an old coat of his when he saw I went without one (though I am unsure he pitied me for perceived poverty or lack of sense, the latter of which was more accurate); His advice was a guiding principle in my lifelong relationship with my daughter through the hardest of times. There is no measurable tuition for such counsel.
So Becket speaks to me, true as ever today.
For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason.
I look back on all those times I mourned for passed loved ones, yet was thankful for the time given to us. Tragedy and triumph are equally potent, and for once I see an intimate connection between them, pervading all of life’s journey. Maybe we should not resist our pains, but accept them in equal measure with our joys. They do not cancel each other out, but fulfill us completely from both sides.
I have been in a daze all day pondering these things, and have so much more to write and say, but I will not … for now, at least. And who knows … perhaps my Professor and friend, in making his new life, will venture with me into the blogosphere. Which reminds me … I will be sending him a link to “Think, Think Again”, currently at http://KenVille.Net/thinkthinkagain, where I fittingly mention him in my first article.