Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I am trying to make my living as a writer, but there are some things that are difficult to put into words. Anything that is said seems like a half-truth, a partial answer. Grief is one of those things.

Austin B. Caswell was a professor of mine at Indiana University - a brilliant scholar and a glowing soul. He had a gift and a passion for teaching that I could only begin to admire, so vast was his understanding of and love for his students. I was in his honors seminar my junior year, and while the class was wonderful and inspirational, it was his friendship that I treasured most of all.

His utter shock at discovering that I was both in the music school at IU and actually could think (being a musicologist he had ample experience with the music program) endeared me to him at first. Even when the course ended, we continued to meet regularly, and when it became clear to me that performance was no longer a path that was open to me, he helped me see that it also wasn't one that I necessarily wanted. I needed more, and he encouraged me to go after it - reading my work, and praising it with every bit of biased glee that he could muster.

During my first year of my masters, I despaired at my inability to cope with an academic environment, and bemoaning my unceasing stupidity in an email to him, he said he was sending me a care package. A week later, I received a package - it contained not comfort foods, but notes from every one of his current honors students. He had told them of my plight, and they had all sat down to write me messages of support, which Austin then forwarded to me. This is the kind of devotion this man could inspire - one where his students, not having a single idea in the world who I was, could write me such nice letters, simply at his request.

Austin was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and although he battled it firmly and with conviction, continuing to ride his bike for miles and teach until three weeks ago, he finally succumbed this past week.

My heart breaks.

I do take comfort in having the rare opportunity to have known and enjoyed such a rare person. But for the moment I am speechless.

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