On Monday, I found out that I had failed one of my midterms. Not like, “Oh, damn, probably got a B-” failure. Like straight-up, forty-six out of one hundred points failure. I slunk off to lunch; the Berkeley Mac and Cheese I love tasted less exciting than usual. Three hours later, I found out that the dean of Calhoun College, my dean, Leslie Woodard, passed away unexpectedly. Four hours later, I stood in the Calhoun courtyard, shoulders hunched, holding a white candle that had been poked through a paper cup.
I love the courtyard’s simplicity, the way it neatly delineates the whole college in one easy square. No coved sections with hidden entryways, no bisecting arches. No matter where you stand, you can see the entire inside of Calhoun. I never wanted to experience the courtyard the way I did Monday night: seeing hundreds of faces, warmed by candlelight but cold and silent; seeing my own vision distorted by tears. I didn’t want to be there under these circumstances.
But there we were, faced with a reality that had been too easy to deny when it came through email. With a microphone, Calhoun master Jonathan Holloway spoke to us, describing the spectrum of emotions that come with events like these. There were a variety of emotions, yes, but they mostly melded into a shapeless mass of confusion. My mind raced through them. With each one, I was pulled in a different direction. Sadness: This is too soon, for her and for us. Regret: I should have gotten to know her more. I should have recognized her warm spirit and made it a part of my life. Pragmatism: I have assignments due tomorrow and a midterm that I failed. The world is still turning. Anger: the world is so fucking unfair. Again, the confusion: what is the proper emotion to feel right now? I don’t know. My throat was sore from holding down sobs.
Master Holloway implored that we remember what Dean Woodard would say in the face of tough times, and with a startlingly accurate impression, he said: “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. March with a capital M.” The words resonated for their power but also for the daunting task they presented. Dean Woodard’s infectious enthusiasm for life has stayed with me since the moment I first saw her at my sister’s graduation — which took place in that same courtyard. There she had been, announcing the seniors’ names and majors with immeasurable pride. I will never forget it. After such a loss, how do I pick myself up, dust myself off and march? What is the force that sets me on that path? Perhaps no external force is necessary. Perhaps just marching is needed. Just a step.
I think I cried hardest when someone walked dean Woodard’s Shetland Sheepdog Jimmy Dean around the courtyard to let students pet him. When he reached me, I crumbled. “What are you going to do now?” I thought. “Who is going to take care of you?” I bent down to brush my hand against his fur, but only for a moment, because I knew he still had to travel around the circle. I couldn’t keep him close; that wouldn’t be fair to the others. It wouldn’t be fair to Jimmy. I lifted my hand, straightened my body and let the people to my right reach their hands down. As I watched Jimmy move away from me slowly, I extinguished my candle. Motown music softly played over the speakers, and the crowd stood silently. After a minute, people began to break from the circle, either to place their candles into the courtyard’s lawn, or to talk to others, or to leave the courtyard. As I approached my fellow Calhoun juniors, I saw the circle dissolve into an array of moving people speaking in hushed murmurs and walking in different directions.