When you are young, there are few times in which you feel you actually know who you are, few times in which you think, “Yes, this is right, this is where I’m supposed to be, and these are the people I’m supposed to be with.” I had the privilege of experiencing one of those moments in the summer of 2006, when I was 22.
We were a random, ragtag group of people, all drawn to the same graduate school program with one goal in mind: we wanted to be teachers. That’s all. We just wanted to teach.
We were a cohort, and as such, we took every class together, passed every test together, stayed up till 2 a.m. writing papers together. And yet, that doesn’t even begin to explain what it is that we experienced. It was unique, and that time in my life remains a cornerstone in the foundation of who I have become.
They key of it all was this: we wrote together. That summer, we took a creative writing class that forever altered my idea of what it means to speak the truth. If you have never been part of a writers’ workshop, you won’t understand. If you have been a part of a writers’ workshop, you still won’t understand. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime perfect combinations: the right time, the right place, the right people.
When I first heard of this ‘feather circle’ concept in our writing class, I thought it was New Age-y bullshit. We’re supposed to read our own writing aloud in a circle? And actually pass around a damn feather? Are you kidding me right now?
But we did it.
And we took it seriously.
There is power in reading your own naked words aloud, and there is power in listening, really listening, to the words of others. There is power in acknowledging truth when you hear it, and in turn, speaking truth yourself, out loud, no matter how ugly, for everyone to know. The bravery and trust in that room was beyond anyone’s expectation. Somehow, we all knew that what we had to say would be heard, respected, and appreciated.
After each class, we chose a few people to whom we would write thank-you notes, acknowledging what the person had said in class and pointing out, specifically, what it was that we appreciated about it. The praise was genuine because it was chosen; the trust grew because we knew, without a doubt, that others were listening. In all the world, my thank-you notes are still my most prized possessions.
Much of that credit goes to us. Most of that credit goes to the teacher.
And that is what we really learned: what it is to be a teacher. It’s not about writing poems and reading them out loud and passing around a stupid stick with a stupid feather on it. It’s about: Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do my thoughts matter? Should I say what you want, or should I say what I think?
I can’t tell you if we all walked out of that class as writers, but I can tell you for certain that we all walked out as thinkers.
Eventually, we graduated, we taught, we drifted, we lived. We chased our own fireflies down our own winding lanes.
We don’t all keep in regular contact, but it doesn’t even begin to matter. At some point, we will all be in a room together again, and each one of us will embrace the other as a brother and a friend.
All of us, except for one.
You name sounds like the wind in France, the sky above the prairie, the sun sighing in the West. Renee tells me she can still hear your laughter, and I tell you that what she means is this: She can still hear your voice. We all can. Yours was the strongest.
On Sunday, Eyatta Fischer, a beautiful, brilliant woman in her prime died unexpectedly. She was one of us.
My immediate reaction was: blank. Just blank. It didn’t really happen, so there’s no need to react. Blank. You don’t know her anymore. Blank. It was a long time ago. Go to bed, wake up, go to work: blank.
And then, as I was leaving work tonight, I did something stupid: I looked out the damn window. I saw two little bees moving from flower to flower in the greenery outside, and that, for some reason, is what filled in the blanks. Eyatta died.
She died. I said it out loud. I said the truth, and I am finally starting to feel it.
Darkness is settling into my eyes, into my chest. A darkness that I won’t fight, but before the last light goes out, let me tell you this:
No matter how far we roam, no matter the ellipses that separate me from you, those thin, pulsing threads connecting us will not break.
I hear all of you, even now. I see all of you. I appreciate every single one of you.
I love you. For that summer and the year following, for the honesty and the laughter and the thank-you notes, for the push and the pull and the drive and the climb.
You’re my people. You don’t know me now, but you knew me then, and in this life, that counts, it really, truly counts.
I hope you know that.