It never occurred to me I might one day live in a small college town like this. Having lived and loved a decade in San Francisco and having enjoyed traveling for work to amazing places like Manhattan, London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, I kinda pegged myself for a city gal. But this sleepy town has gotten under my skin a bit these past fourteen-plus years, and though it may mostly be due to resilience, I think, in part, it’s also because of these kids.
Every year around this time, greeting cards arrive, some coming from Michael's former students, like the one who wrote of his recent engagement, then went on to say:
It seems like a long time ago to me, yet I remember being in your class and finally feeling inspired at Bowdoin ... I think differently, see better, and observe more critically because of your teachings—thank you.
I wept with pride and a kind of joy when I read his words, though my throat thickened with a lump of sorrow knowing Michael will never have the opportunity to stir our own child, to talk with him philosophically or explore perceptions of the larger world and the one within ourselves. It's a theme I return to often, especially given I see these kids on a daily basis when the college is in session. I watch their movements, overhear bits of their conversations, meet their kind gazes squarely and with a smile, and then I think of Calvin and a more somber mood takes charge.
Over the years, students have expressed their fondness and appreciation by calling, or mysteriously delivering bottles of bourbon wrapped in brown paper to our door on Thanksgiving, or by sending gifts from abroad or donating to CURE epilepsy on Calvin’s behalf. Mostly, though, it's their words that are so meaningful and memorable. Some have corresponded for years, slept in our spare room, crashed on our couch, or driven miles just to join us for dinner. They always arrive bearing gifts and love, healthy appetites, laughter, good conversation and, most of all, the kind of curiosity, compassion and openness that will no doubt take them far.
Relationships with these young men and women come with some complex emotions. I relate to them with a deepness they may not fully grasp, in that I see in them what I might have seen in my own child had something not gone so terribly wrong. I relish our conversations together, on one level because of my fondness for, and understanding of, youth, and on another because I’m desperate to engage in a way I’ll never be able to with my own son. So these young adults—other people’s kids—hold special meaning to me.
I often wonder if Calvin, had he been born healthy, might've grown up to travel the world, become an artist or writer, learn to speak different languages, study abroad or perhaps would've been an athlete, entrepreneur or teacher.
When I imagine Calvin with a healthy brain and a body that works, I think he'd have been a remarkable kid. And then I remember, he is.
|Bowdoin photo I, Spring 2015. Photo by Michael Kolster|