Before being on a plane to Phoenix and before flying to South Africa, I stopped into Pullman to participate in a memorial service today. Here was my small part:
Dr. William Glenn Terrell and I shared the same first name, but in the turbulent 70’s, I could never admit that. From 1977 to 1982 I made it my mission to make Dr. Terrell’s life as miserable as possible. Thirty years later, and a few grey hairs, has made me realize that Dr. Terrell’s mission, not just for me, but for the tens, no hundreds of thousands of live he touched and changed, was to educate as many as possible.
It all reminds me of something Mark Twain once said:
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
I remember the quote because my dad used to give me a card with it on it every year on my birthday from age 21 to 55.
When I left my house this morning, one of my daughter’s asked where I was going. I told her I was going to a memorial to honor an adversary who had become a teacher, and then a friend. She said, Dad, but you don’t do funerals.
True, I try to avoid them because funerals and memorials make us all focus on the shortness of our lives. And, for most of us who lead smaller lives, others, like Dr. Terrell, who lived outsized lives, it is all just a bit intimidating.
A year ago my own father died. The death of a parent, the death of a spouse, changes your perspective in an unchangeable way. In the hours leading to his death, I would read from Hemingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River.” One of our favorite passages was this one (Imagine standing in ice-cold river on a very hot sunny day):
The leader had broken where the hook was tied to it. Nick took it in his hand. He thought of the trout somewhere on the bottom, holding himself steady over the gravel, far down below the light, under the logs, with the hook in his jaw. Nick knew the trout’s teeth would cut through the snell of the hook. The hook would imbed itself in his jaw. He’d bet the trout was angry. Anything that size would be angry. That was a trout. He had been solidly hooked. Solid as a rock. He felt like a rock, too, before he started off. By God, he was a big one. By God, he was the biggest one I ever heard of.
Dr. Terrell was one of the big fish. Dr. Terrell’s life will live long past his death. It will live in the library that has his name and out on the mall were he greeted students, and in the lives of countless adversaries, who became friends.
Dr. Terrell, you are one of the big fish.