It is an art to cherish those we love, but perhaps our thoughts turn most toward loved ones during the holidays: We think of loved ones still with us and of those who have gone beyond. Herman Melville wrote that “Friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth,” and my friendship with Frank was like that: He was my soul-friend, and from the first time we met, I knew we would always be friends.
Frank was an English professor, and he hired me for my first teaching job. After graduate school, we would meet at a restaurant to discuss my dissertation. He was retired, but that detail did not prevent him from “grading” my work.
When we met for our “classes,” I would insist on paying for his breakfast, a small gesture of thanks, and Frank would joke that he would edit anything in exchange for free ham biscuits.
I would likely still be working on that project today were it not for Frank’s encouragement: He was the best teacher I ever had, although I was never officially his student. Frank took interest in me, his “student,” but he adored his wife, children and grandchildren even more.
He had family and friends throughout South Carolina and North Carolina and Maine; he spent a lifetime traveling between those two beloved worlds, the Southeast and New England.
The last time I saw Frank, we watched a program about an antiquarian horologist, and, as is often the case with those whom we most love, I did not know that day would be the last one. That day, Frank was both with me but also somewhere else, as if he had already started making his journey to another world.
We watched a program about an artist who repaired antique clocks; she brought treasures of antiquity to life again, as if to preserve the beauty from another time for future generations.
Frank said horology was the study of time, and that was the last lesson he shared: time. I realized that no matter how old he was, Frank had never seemed old to me. Melville, one of Frank’s heroes, believed that “to know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” Frank had mastered the art of time, and he remained youthful in spirit throughout his life.
On that last day, we talked about time and dreams and family, and I asked him if he ever dreamed about his parents, and he said “Often.” In the dream, Frank, his father and their horse were walking in the woods behind their house, and Frank was gathering firewood as he had done on so many occasions as a child. In another moment, the dream blurred into the present, and Frank would suggest that those very woods were behind the house where we were sitting.
I like to think Frank is still spending his time between two worlds. Perhaps he is spending time with loved ones in both regions, Maine and the Carolinas, and in both worlds, with loved ones here and with those who, like him, have made the passage to the other side.
We seldom glimpse how much someone means to us while there is still time, and no matter how much we may try to show our love, we cannot come close to glimpsing how much our loved ones will be missed when they are gone.
I think of Frank a thousand times a day, and I like to imagine that Frank is home, perhaps gathering firewood in the woods behind his family’s farmhouse, awaiting the arrival of other loved ones. I don’t know how I know, but we will see each other again one day: We will take long walks together through the fields with his beautiful horse named Lady.
Dr. Love is dean of the College of Arts at Lander University; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.