The Proof Is On My Wall

Once upon a time, I had the chance to teach what turned out to be a wonderful class on the works of Simone Weil, Simone de Beauvoir, and Hannah Arendt. It was a small class, and we sat around in the living room of the old house that used to be home to the Philosophy and Religion and Social Work departments, puzzling out the reading and arguing. It was a good group, full of people with questions and ideas and interesting things to say, and we had a pretty cozy time of it.

One of the students in the class was a young ginger fellow (so, one of My People) with a sunny disposition and a can-do attitude who we all called JDub or JW. He was bright, he was funny, and he engaged in every conversation with a sort of cheery curiosity and generous enthusiasm that made it a pleasure to have him around. He was one of our majors (or at least he took enough of our classes to be), and he was a truly pleasant person to have in class. He could be, by turns, argumentative and acutely self-critical, and he was always in good humor. It was really, really easy to like JW (which is how, I suppose, so many people managed to do it).
One day, after he’d been absent, he came to class looking like he’d gone 9 rounds with a gorilla and lost. He’d had an odd sort of accident, just the sort of thing one would expect of him. He’d been playing one of the many sports he enjoyed, and at some point his face had come into contact with a fellow player’s knee. Being JW, his first instinct was to shake it off and keep playing — but the fact that the team around him had apparently multiplied severalfold and couldn’t be touched convinced him that perhaps he ought to see a doctor. 
When he joined us that day, he was bubbling with enthusiasm about showing us his CAT scans and x-rays (which he had on a CD and happily showed us on his computer as he told the story of how it came to pass). I joked that I wanted his x-ray film, because it was evidence that he did in fact have a brain.
So, naturally, he gave me his x-ray films. That’s how JW rolled.
JW died yesterday in a car crash, leaving behind family and friends who will miss him terribly.
I still have his x-ray films hanging in a frame on the wall in my living room. Proof that he had a brain. Proof of life. Proof that there had been no real harm done. Proof, as if I needed any more than my memory of him, that this lovely guy existed and brightened a whole lot of days. If there was any ill to know about him, I didn’t know it, so I can have nothing to say about it. I only know that what I have left is a ghost on film on a wall that can’t laugh or ask a silly question or honestly confess the depth of his sudden understanding of exactly how something worked (philosophically speaking).
It is a very, very sad thing.
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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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One Response to The Proof Is On My Wall

  1. Thanks Laura. I lived with JW my senior year. This is a touching and appreciated tribute.

    -tom

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