#ThursdayTreeLove | Recollections

Recollections, Watercolor by Wanda A

It is difficult to realize how great a part of all that is cheerful and delightful in the recollections of our own life is associated with trees. –Wilson Flagg

I realize the image above isn’t a “real” tree, but this tree is special to me. Wanda, my sophomore year college roommate and brilliant art major, painted and gave the tree to me as a gift at some point before we parted ways–she to an art school in New York, me to an internship in Maryland.

The inspiration for this watercolor was a young tree that grew outside of our first floor dorm room. We often sat in our room with the window open and gazed at this tree. When alone, we contemplated and meditated. When together, we people-watched and discussed the trials and triumphs of life and love with our favorite tree always in view.

I looked for the tree almost seven years ago when I first returned to the campus as a professor; unfortunately, it is no longer there. I don’t even have a photograph, so I’m grateful my roomie and friend immortalized the tree through her artwork.

Wanda informed me that her daughter [corrected] is headed to our alma mater this fall [gasp]! Hopefully, she’ll find a special tree and much that is cheerful and delightful.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Many Kinds of Blessings

Instruction ended today. Of course, I can’t celebrate too enthusiastically because after the last day of classes the most difficult work begins.

At this moment, university professors everywhere are clenching their teeth and focusing all their energy on overcoming the major hurdle of final grading and the accompanying drama of begging, pleading, and “shopping” for grades. We keep reminding ourselves that the end is in sight and a sweet summer of rest is on the way. [For many of us rest means working just as hard–but in our own space and on our own time].

At the end of the semester we must constantly remind ourselves of the general good in our students and the good we do for our students. My [former] student Raven made that effort a bit easier for me this week. When I finally made it to our P.O. Box a few days ago, I found among the cheerful greetings and cards from Love Notes pals a sweet and encouraging card from Raven. [Yes, Raven, I checked my mail days ago.]

The card reminded me that though we experience moments when we doubt our work, we actually do some good in the world; our students appreciate our pouring into them; and eventually, they get it.  Thankfully, some, like Raven, “get it” immediately.

Here’s part of her message:

You have been on my mind lately and I wanted to show you just how great you are and how thankful I am for your having been in my life as more than a professor and advisor. You share so much of yourself with your students and we are better for it. Thank you for being you. Your words of love and wisdom, the postcards you send, the blogs you post, the pictures you take…they all illustrate the beauty and intelligence that you are…

I am humbled by such messages. I do not take the influence or the gifts mentioned in Raven’s note lightly. I am blessed through my interactions with students and thankful–even if not always immediately–for the ways they help me stretch and grow.

I chose the [English] professoriate because through literature and language study, students and I open up and enter countless worlds together. It is my hope that through such study they ultimately become change agents in the hands of God.

Farewell…For Now

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from family files, pilfered from B. Benn's Facebook page.

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from B. Benn’s (his son’s) Facebook page.

When I was an undergraduate I had the privilege of studying under the tutelage of Dr. Bernard W. Benn, an anointed person who influenced the lives of many, many others in amazing ways. It is through the many classes that I took under his instruction that I learned to love (forever) Shakespeare and the Romantic and Victorian poets.  His faith in me fueled my pursuit of a doctorate in English and many other endeavors. His protégés have gone on to honor his excellence, and through each of us, his work continues.

This wonderful person—my advisor, mentor, and friend of my mind—passed away last week. The news literally knocked the wind out of me because I did not know he was ill and, quite frankly, I expected him to be around much, much longer. I had the bittersweet pleasure of attending his funeral and seeing his family, with whom I’ve been acquainted almost as long as I’ve known him—Mrs. Dr. Benn, his beautiful wife, who took such good care of me when I was a student, and his three children who are themselves doing great things for humanity. Although I entered the funeral weighted with grief, I left much lighter, with hope, and with a drive to ensure that I continue to practice the compassion and wisdom he so ably taught through his example. Something in that funeral reminded me to “lift up my countenance” and celebrate the blessing of living a life touched by Dr. Benn.

Moran Hall on the campus of Oakwood University. The building, constructed by Oakwood students in 1938, was named after the first Black president of the University.

I have a million and one memories of Dr. Benn. In separate conversations this past week, my friend and colleague Cy and I had a few good laughs about our experiences with Dr. Benn. We reminisced about the beautiful spring afternoon he finally and reluctantly gave in to our English Literature class’s pleas to go outside and discuss Chaucer. We convinced him, but he took us not too far from the building. Instead of to the Bell Tower near the building or under one of the stately oaks, he led us out the side door of Moran Hall, which housed the English Department and our classes, into the grassy area between Green and Moran Halls, but closest to Moran, of course. Cy and I talked about his habit of teaching, eyes closed, head leaned back, but alert, intently listening, demanding excellence in writing and in thinking, without making students feel insignificant or small.   We chuckled about his giving her grammar books for her birthdays as a way of chiding her to improve. Ever in his humble and gentle way.

Dr. Benn mentored me pretty much all the way to completion of my doctorate and my early years of teaching, so I have enough to say about him to fill a book or two. But my keenest memories are of the mornings when I’d arrive in the department at 8:00 a.m. sharp and already find him on his knees in prayer.  That is the one image that consistently comes to mind whenever I think of Dr. Benn.  It was for me defining. It spoke of the character of this “giant” of a person–a master teacher, grammarian, and scholar, a department chair, a former university president–who so unapologetically demonstrated his need for the Sovereign God and who made his very life a prayer to God.

I will always remember him fondly. I have drawn from the wisdom he shared with me almost every day since I graduated from college.

He was an amazing teacher who took a motley bunch of us who “liked to read” and transformed us into lovers of great literature.  He took our immature arrogance and finessed us to mature individuals, walking in godly confidence. He called our Christianity to task through every text we studied and by his sincere example. He showed us the way to infusing Christ into our lives—our studies, our interactions with each other, our future students, our professionalism.

"Weeping Willow," iPhone Photo

“Weeping Willow,” iPhone Photo

I took a mental health day earlier this week because I needed to take some time to process yet another loss. In my all-day period of meditation, I read some favored poems, thanks to Dr. Benn.  One such was “Morte d’Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I imagined the last conversation between Sir Bedivere and Arthur as my parting conversation with Dr. Benn (pardon the liberties that I’ve taken in changing some of phrasing of the text):

 

Then loudly cried the bold Lady Chandra:

“Ah! my Lord Dr. Benn, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight.

Such times have been not since the light that led

The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved

Which was an image of the mighty world;

And I, the last, go forth companionless,

And the days darken round me, and the years,

Among new people, strange faces, other minds.”

 

And slowly answer’d Dr. Benn from the barge:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?

I have lived my life, and that which I have done

May He within Himself make pure! but thou,

Thou shouldst see my face again,

Pray for all souls. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for mankind night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

But for now farewell. I am going to take my rest,

But for a little while.

We shall meet again

At the trumpet call to the great reunion

In the sky…

Untitled

From the poem, “The Tide,” iPhone Photo

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.