When you’re 18, you are invincible. You hear about other teens perishing in drunken crashes and think, “That won’t be me. That won’t be any of my friends. We’re responsible.” You don’t expect an email on Thanksgiving morning saying that your friend has been in a freak car accident, with nothing but the weather to blame, that has taken his life.
What do you say to your friend, whose best friend and greatest love has been snatched out from under her?
How do you process that someone so vibrant and intelligent and warm and alive is no longer there?
We struggled. I think we were all suffering from some form of shell shock. There was some crying, but mostly blankness.
Back in my English major days, I learned about catharsis. Catharsis is something we crave in times like this — we need something to jostle us from our blankness. To prime the well so that our emotions can well up and out of us. Doc Five, as we called the Magister, was our agent of catharsis that year.
I cannot recall what it was that he said, but I remember that day vividly, sitting in my Mythology class with some of my closest friends. Nick had been his beloved student, and we could see that he was struggling to maintain his composure. I remember that he stopped and turned to us, with tears in his eyes, and released the most wonderful torrent of words that had ever hit my soul. I wish I could remember the specifics, but six years have smoothed the contours of my memory. All I know is that it was in that moment that I finally felt the weight of what had happened and understood that this is what happens. The world is not fair to the best of us. The most wonderful, influential, kind people are the ones who are taken too soon. I had suspected it when my non-biological-aunt passed away my freshman year, but I didn’t really comprehend it until that moment.
I remember when Doc Five arrived at the wake. We flocked to him and he embraced us like a warm lighthouse, sweeping his beam of comfort over each and every one of us.
The Magister had nothing but love, wisdom, and knowledge to give. I remember more from the mythology class that I took from him than I do from most of my other high school classes — I think it is safe to say that he was the best teacher at Lexington High School for the duration of his time there, which spanned at least two generations. Everybody who came in contact with him left changed. Enlightened.
Doc Five passed away last night. I have been thinking a lot about death this year, and what it means, and wondering how I can reconcile the fact that I don’t believe in life after death. It’s hard to think that your loved ones are simply gone. I keep coming back to the part in The Amber Spyglass when Will cuts a window out of the land of the dead and as the trapped dead re-enter the world, they turn their faces to the moon and dissolve into the universe.
“Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing. We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.” -Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
I love this image. I love the idea of returning to the earth. And when I see the fog, I think of Nick. In the scent of strawberries, Terry. The warmth of the sunshine, my grandmother. Paul and Demelza in the grass against my legs. A brush of wind is a hug from my Papa. The bubbling of a stream is Grandpa Ted laughing.
I will hear Doc Five’s voice in the hoo-ing of an owl at night.