I stare at my computer, contemplating the past three-and-a-half years. The window and door are both open, so a draft of cool air rushes in, carrying fresh oxygen – a catalyst for brain activity.

It was only 31 classes ago that I was making the trip to Ann Arbor, carrying the essentials necessary to live. I was away from home for the first time. Only 31 classes? I must have taken at least 60 exams during my time here. Putting it this way, my college career seems like an eternity. And yet it flew by so fast that there was no time to embed the experience of exams into memory. All I know is that I passionately dislike them.

So, I begin to ponder which moments in time carried an emotional energy strong enough to make the clock stop for a moment, to warp the space-time of my perceptions, thus becoming a distinct memory. Suddenly, images begin to emerge, like comic book vignettes, their combined narrative distinctly disjointed. I begin to realize that there isn’t a single lesson or theme that encompasses my past experience. In the words of Italian author Cesare Pavese, “We do not remember days; we remember moments.”

Eternal damnation

A few weeks ago, I took the time to observe the religious extremists that gather at the corner of State Street and North University Avenue on football Saturdays as they listed the reasons why everyone was doomed to eternal damnation unless they changed their ways. The group is composed of four or five individuals who rotate between handing out fliers and screaming their diatribe. Passersby have learned to ignore the crazy old men, but occasionally someone momentarily stops and observes them, as if staring at gorillas delousing each other at the zoo.

Something catches my eye — a sign that one of the men is holding, which claims that “whisperers” are among the sinners doomed to receive God’s wrath. Suddenly, my mind is transported to my childhood. My mom used to tell me to be respectfully quiet and to whisper when we went to the movie theater. In hindsight, I should have retorted by shouting, “But I will face eternal damnation if I do as you say, mommy!”

Amused by this image, I return to reading the sign. “Well, I’ll be damned!” I exclaim, the irony of the statement blowing completely over my head. “Disobeyers of parents,” apparently, are also doomed to eternal damnation.

The young professor

Flashing back six months, I find myself in an economics class at 10 in the morning. This wasn’t the class I had wanted to take — my preferred class had been cancelled due to a professor’s illness.

Then the professor enters. I’m immediately captivated by his audacity and energy. I also notice that he’s visibly nervous – has he not taught a class before? It wouldn’t be surprising, given his apparent youth.

A month later, I’m convinced that this class is the best I’ve taken. I feel bombarded with knowledge and new insights, courtesy of the young professor’s unyielding wit and humor.

Two weeks before the conclusion of class, a friend of mine remarks that the professor looks unwell. Indeed, the professor is sweating profusely and his humor is increasingly infrequent. Then, one day, the young professor interrupts his lecture to show us pictures of his young children. The pause is brief and I make nothing of it.

The day of the exam, the young professor doesn’t show up to class. My classmates and I are intensely worried. Two weeks later, I receive an e-mail from the professor, thanking everyone in the class and apologizing for running out of energy towards the end of the semester. “Thankfully, he’s recovered,” I conclude.

Then, one seemingly random summer day, I receive an e-mail. It’s directed to all students in the economics class I had taken with the young professor. “Sad news,” the e-mail reads.

For a whole week, I cannot shake away my sense of loss. I now realize that, outside of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s deaths when I was very young, I had never experienced the death of someone close. Now that I can rationalize it, I come to the conclusion that, in this case, rationality does nothing but make the experience worse.

Waking up

A gust of wind blows through the window and my daydreams come to an abrupt end. I ask myself why I always seem to recall the sad memories first. Given that my years at the University have been the happiest of my life, I decide it’s only fair to also revisit the happier moments.

Tommaso Pavone can be reached at tpavone@umich.edu.

Editor’s Note: This column is the first part of a two-part series in which the columnist reflects upon his experiences at the University. Part two is scheduled to run on Nov. 29.

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