The first time I saw you it was in the dining hall, a month into my new job at CSW. You walked through the clank and clatter of lunch with no hair. A choice, I presumed, like those your peers made to don tattoos, piercings, and bad retro clothing. Nothing worse than the unstylish choices of my youth, of course, but a brief reminder of the school’s reputation for “being weird.” (Does CSW still have this reputation? I hope.)
You transferred into my class around Thanksgiving and I was made to understand you would likely not live beyond Christmas. Any day you missed (these were infrequent and only when you absolutely had to do something to fight the cancer) meant my wondering if I would see you again a dim in the classroom. It was not just me who understood you as the most valuable person on the room. Your classmates knew it too, consciously or not. Class was always better when you were there. Your steady smile. Your laugh. Mostly that class was the place you wanted to be. Life was what you wanted and offered us all.
It never occurred to me to write to you to ask if it would be O.K. to name a school after you. I wrote to your parents once. That was not easy, explaining to them that a small group of students had started doing good work around campus, leaving anonymous art and so forth, and that at some point someone had said we should have a name. “How about Molly,” I suggested. All agreed.
Do you remember teaching classes in to freshman as my Teaching Assistant two years later? A few months before you died? Thinking back on that now I am reminded of something a great chef once told me: At some level, how you put vinegar on tomatoes is what matters. Grace comes from endless practice of course, the 10,000 hour rule or whatever. But you sat in the middle of the class and moved the discussion along not just as if you were born to do it but as if we were all born to be together. We all left with your glow.
Hard to say now, ten years later, if Molly School will become real or, if it does, if you would approve. I hope so. I think it is hard for those who knew you better than I did–Anne, Craig–to hear me speak of “Molly” and have it be this thing, and organization or whatever, rather than a person, the person. They loved you very much and you and I really only knew each other a bit.
But I hope you would see that what we are after is not cultish or ghoulish. The first truth is is that when I cam to Amsterdam and had to open a business to apply for a visa I kind of just blurted out “molly School” at the Chamber of Commerce years before I had any thought about what that might mean, when I was still working at other schools. And the second truth is that when I want to complain–which is always–thinking of you helps. That, and well, whatever learning is–not to achieve but to express, not to show off but to discover, not to win but to enjoy–you embodied.
One of the things that I loved about CSW was that the students call the teachers by their first names. I was Ted. I was a willing candidate, I guess, but it was the first in a series of helpful lessons about trying to meet people well, as who they are and thinking abut what they needed. As a teacher, after your death, I spent many years not doing that, though even this was in service of finding a different kind of system, one that promoted the life of non-pretend and not putting people on a pedestal. Which is all a little weird. Because if Molly can do that well, it puts you there just a bit. I hope that’s o.k. too.
And you know, from Tom I got “poop it out” and it was only after that that I saw your art with the heart pooping baby. Poop out the love. Put babies in charge. If Molly School works and thirty years from now there are Petra Schools and Jenny Schools and Melanie Schools and so forth your name will be less on a pedestal, but those ideas will have taken hold. And if that happens, it will be you who got them there.
Thinking of you, as ever,