"The time to give up on someone is never." A colleague once said this to a class. We were team-teaching. During the years we worked together, he said a number of things that woke me up. Another was, "Everything will happen to us."
We'd been discussing the novel Dad by William Wharton. A student was upset by the description of a car accident. Wharton had done his job as a writer. It was an appalling scene. The student was angry, asking why he should have to read this "garbage." I was electrified. A young and unseasoned teacher, I wondered how my colleague was going to handle this one. I figured he'd say something soothing, something intellectual about fiction. I actually had no idea what he would tell the student. A heated discussion began, the class looking at all sides of why the author wrote this scene and wrote it exactly this way. At some point, my colleague said, "Everything will happen to us."
The classroom was instantly quiet. Thirty or so of us sitting at the big rectangular table, staring at each other, all of the everything that could or would happen, there with us. That statement stayed with me, the truth and the untruth of it. Not everything will happen to each of us, but certainly enough will. It was horrible and liberating.
I admired the way my colleague would take the risk to say what he felt, what he really thought as a human being, not just what he was supposed to say as the teacher. He always took responsibility for what he said, and off we'd go on journeys of the heart and mind, exploring. He was one of the most popular teachers at the college for over thirty years. His classes were so alive, crackling with thinking and feeling, with true discovery for each student. My colleague was able to initiate genuine dialogue among the students and himself. It was a gift to watch him teach.
The novel Dad is a deeply upsetting book in many ways, about fathers and sons, parents and children, not really knowing the people closest to you, mortality, and much more. It was the perfect book for me to read at that time in my life. I'd been estranged from my own dad for years. Then my mother died. Suddenly, unexpectedly. In a car accident.
"Everything will happen to us." "The time to give up on someone is never."
I ended up not giving up on my father. I still think about how I almost did, and I still think about what that means, to give up on someone.
I don't want to give up on anything. It is what it is. It is there for some reason, the grief, the anger, the frustration, the helplessness, the uncertainty. There is no way you can control most of the everything that will happen to you. You can come back around to love what you gave up on loving. Or not. I'm open to coming back around. There are forces at work beyond anyone's understanding. I stand in wonder, I'm surrendered, and I don't give up. Why shut the door? The windows are already broken open.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society