Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Death of a Favorite Philosophy Professor

Yesterday was a tough day in our house.  My spouse found out that his favorite undergraduate Philosophy professor, Garth Kemerling, died last year. He was only 69.  The obituary didn't say how he died or what he died of.

I was sitting in the front bedroom where I write, and I heard strange noises from the back of the house.  I found my spouse bent over with his face in his hands.  We'd been experimenting with some hair dye, and at first I thought something dreadful had happened to his hair or eyes.  But he was sobbing because of the obituary.

We spent much of the day crying on and off.  Some deaths when they come are expected.  I'm thinking of my best friend from high school who had suffered a horrifying esophageal cancer.  I still cry a bit here and there, but when the news came, I wasn't surprised.  On the contrary, I was surprised she held on as long as she did.  Our professor's death came as a shock.

Yesterday was one of the days when I realized the value of Facebook.  My spouse spent the day corresponding with classmates who were similarly sad.  They exchanged memories.  They comforted each other.

I felt sad not just because of the death of our favorite professor, but because the type of education we all received at our small, Lutheran, liberal arts college doesn't exist much any more.  Our education revolved around the questions of our values and how to shape our lives according to what matters.  Of course we had important subject matter to learn, but the conversations around that subject matter and before and after class came back to the core values that our institution hoped to instill in us.

I am willing to bet that not many people get that kind of education anymore.

As I watched the day unfold, I thought of all the times when I wondered if anyone would care if I up and disappeared.  Dr. Kemerling probably had no idea that people felt so strongly about his classes and his modeling of young lives.  When I feel similar thoughts, let me remember yesterday.

My spouse is my favorite Philosophy professor, but Dr. Kemerling was my second favorite. The world needs more Philosophy professors like him, not fewer. Sigh.

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