Sunday, March 25, 2007

my first professional heartbreak

I've said it before, a hundred times, that work leaves me heartbroken. My students' failures. My colleagues' betrayals. My friends' disappointments. And I believe that those instances were all sufficient in their ability to break my heart. But I learned, most painfully, that those tormenting instances pale in comparison to losing a student I loved.

He graduated a couple years ago. He was radiant. He died doing what he loved, but I find little comfort in that. I'm a challenge to cosmic consolation that way. "Selfish," if you prefer.

Then again, I just may be wracked by both guilt and jealousy. He died doing what he loved. Everyone says so. Everyone knows so. I can't imagine dying while doing something I love--because I can't imagine what I love doing. Except for teaching. And I couldn't stand for such a circumstantial death. How would one die teaching? Heart attack. Stroke. Etcetera. Most traumatizing for the students, I should think. I most certainly wouldn't want to die in that context.

So I hope that I don't die doing what I love. Unless, of course, I die sleeping.

After more thought, I wish I could be more consumed by my jealousy of the context of my former student's death than I am with the fact of my former student's death. But I can't. I'm heartbroken. I'm inconsolable in that lifetime kind of way.

I won't get over his death. But I'll continue to live with it. In various ways. At various intensities.

I wonder when I'll be able to tell stories about him to current students again.

I wonder when I'll be able to do the right thing and help him live on in the mind's eye of others.

I wonder why academics so rarely speak of losing the ones they love(d).