Many readers of this blog know that late last February I was in Christchurch, New Zealand—and in the cathedral there—when the big earthquake hit. I and two friends were separated and shaken up pretty badly but escaped with only cuts and bruises. The downtown core was pretty much destroyed and a huge area, including what was left of our hotel, was cordoned off. So we ended up in a huge park in a very cold rain along with 2500 other people before being taken in by four students from Christchurch’s Canterbury College. While they had no power or water, the flat they were renting near the university was safe, and over the next two days these young men helped us get prescription medicines and other necessities and in general took splendid care of us. They were generous, thoughtful, and very witty. What, we thought, could we ever do in return?
What we eventually did was to cash in frequent flyer miles and bring these four “Christchurch champs” to San Francisco for a two-week visit, which ended just a couple of weeks ago. It was snowing when they left New Zealand, so as soon as we got to my condo near Stanford they were off to the pool, taking in all the sun and warmth. Over the next days, we visited Facebook headquarters, toured the University (four are engineering students, one a computer scientist), walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, took in a Giants game (or “match” as they called it), and visited Alcatraz. Later we went up the northern California coast for some hiking, biking, kayaking, and eating—I can’t remember cooking so much for a long, long time (“could you make another one of those chocolate cakes?” I could, and did.) I learned about their families, their best “mates,” and their ambitions, hopes, and dreams. When I put them on the plane two weeks later, I was a bit teary-eyed; what goodness and joy had come out of that tragedy in Christchurch just six months e
Shortly after these young men returned home (they faced a series of exams and papers the moment they got back!), our fall term started and I stood outside my building watching the new students and their families streaming across campus. I felt, as I do every September, that I am the luckiest person alive, that being among college students has been the gift of a lifetime for me. Now I have taught my first week of classes: a second-year writing class on “Word, Image, Sound, Silence: Graphic Narratives,” on “Neil Gaiman: International Man of Mystery” (this course team taught with an undergraduate who designed the class), and a grad seminar on “The Future of English Studies.” I have seen my first pieces of writing, done my first tutoring in our writing center, and set up my first conferences.
So today I am thinking about you – all of the teachers across the country who are also deep into their fall teaching, deep into their working with students. In nearly 45 years of teaching, I have found solace, strength, and sometimes courage in teaching, in connecting with college students. I wonder how many of you have had the same experience?