As my departure date approaches, I have had to say goodbye to many people and many places I love.
Experiences and places I value have come and gone.
I worked with my school’s newspaper for four years, and I said goodbye to the community of friends and writers that toiled with me for years.
I said goodbye to the city I grew to love and the people who live there.
I spent my last few weeks of working at my home-away-from-home up north, making new friends and reuniting with old ones, just to say goodbye.
But by far, the hardest goodbye is the one I had to begin this week.
There have been many people who have blessed me with their love, patience and generosity. High on that list would be a handful of professors within Calvin’s English Department, and at the top of the list is my sometimes-advisor, sometimes-friend, sometimes-political-ally and sometimes-snowball-fight-nemesis. He wrote my recommendation letters, promised me I would be a good teacher, and always showed up to the reunion events held for the group of students he took to New England.
I gave him a hug on graduation day and said good-bye. He said, “Goodbye?! Goodbye forever?” And I replied, “Yes ‘goodbye forever,’ I am moving to Indonesia.” (A fact that he knew well, since he wrote my recommendation letter, and had, up until only a few days before, been my supervising professor during my student teaching semester.) Even though I was leaving the next day, we vaguely talked about meeting for coffee or lunch sometime in June when I would be back in Grand Rapids to visit.
Abby and I met to have lunch with him in the middle of June, and we all chatted about life– what was going on at Calvin, preparations for Indonesia, and Abby’s new job. We all hugged goodbye, and Abby and I walked away. I commented on how good it was too see him, and I think also on how lucky we were to have him in our lives.
He always said, “I am a rock, I am an island.”
I don’t know what shaped him to this conclusion, exactly, but, as he would say, “there’s a Simon and Garfunkle song for every occasion,” and some seasons are more tumultuous than others. I don’t know which song would be appropriate for how I feel now: “He was my brother,” possibly, or perhaps “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” although they both don’t quite truly suffice.
I am left with a deep sadness, now that he is gone. I was looking forward to many more great conversations, seeking his advice, and happy reunions with the communities he blessed with his wit and energy. I was looking forwards to more hugs, more reassurance and more mispronunciations of the word “vegan.” While I know that he would have hated to spend the future fighting against cancer, being constrained physically and distanced from the Calvin community, I am still distraught with his passing. He was a blessing to me and many, many others, and he will be present in many of my most precious memories for decades to come.
When he read this poem in my Student Teaching Seminar, I cried. I hid my face behind my hair and wiped away the few tears, hoping no one noticed. It was not only the poem’s content that moved me, but the way Vande Kopple would read those words. The pause before, “Let evening come,” and the calm, deep tone of reverence that his reading voice expressed.