One spring day in 2002, I was sitting by the banks of the Red Cedar River at Michigan State University, asking my friend and mentor, David Cooper, for advice about a job offer I had at Colorado State University. The job offer was less than wonderful, but there were circumstances at hand.
At the time, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the American Thought and Language department and David was a senior and well-regarded professor in that department. Through David’s friendship I learned how to re-boot the career that I left when I gave up my tenured position at Loras College and without his guidance at that time in my life, well, I don’t even want to think about what would have become of my professional life.
At the same time, Sujata and I were getting serious. She was finishing medical school and wanted to get out of Michigan (too cold and dark). I was of that mind but there was no guarantee that she would get a position in the residency program at the University of Colorado, so there was a chance that I’d move to Colorado and end up all alone with a lousy job, far away from my friends and walking away from a career that I was just starting to put back together.
So there we were, David and me, gazing over the Red Cedar, weighing my options. David knew Sujata and he knew how much I loved her, so it didn’t take him long to encourage me to take the job, especially if it would keep Sujata and I together. “There are possibilities out there that aren’t here for both of you,” he said, among many other things.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever taken.
Now, I’m sitting in the San Francisco Airport after spending two wonderful days with David, who has retired from Michigan State and moved to Paso Robles, California, a quiet central coast town not far from San Louis Obispo.
I wasn’t there on the happiest of circumstances.
David recently lost his wife, Christina, a wonderful person who I came to know and love over the years. Christina was a radiant, joyful and beautiful woman who was always gracious and kind. When I was with Christina, I always felt at ease—her kindness and love made people feel that way.
When my son was three years old, he and I flew out to Michigan to visit old friends, among them David and Christina. One afternoon, David and I decided to go for a bike ride with our mutual friend, John Kinch, and Christina, who was easy and loving with children, readily offered to hang out with my son while we were gone for the afternoon. Atticus and Christina became fast friends—Christina played with him, read him books and engaged him on the kind of level and with the kind of attention and love that you mostly only get from close relatives. Spending an afternoon with a three-year old can be tiring, but when we got back to the house, both of them were snuggled up on the couch, reading a book. I always loved Christina for her smile, her intelligence and her grace, but I never loved her more after she spent that afternoon with my son.
This afternoon, before I left California, David and I were sitting on a bench overlooking the harbor in Morro Bay. The marine layer of fog hung over our heads, but I could see the sun peeking through the layer further up the coast. A US Army Corp of Engineers barge was dredging sand so that boats could continue to access the harbor. Harbor seals played in the water, herons and gulls searched for something to eat and young families and old folks walked along the harbor trail.
David and talked about the new life ahead of him, a life without Christina, but a life that both of us agreed was rich in possibilities. We talked about the ties that bind us together and we talked about the ties that we can’t even see right now.
While we were talking, I was thinking about Sujata and my children, at home in Denver, and I was thinking about the role that David played, through his friendship and advice, in helping me to realize that rich life, that life of possibilities that has become reality.
Now, sitting in the airport, watching the sun set in the west and the planes taking off and touching down in the San Francisco fog, I’m thinking about how grateful I am to David, and to Christina, too, for guiding me along this path.
I hope I can return that favor, to David and to my other friends, too.