In Memoriam–Suzanna Nelson, 1990-2013

As many of you may know (or not) my teaching assistant for the past three years, Suzanna Nelson, died out in San Diego last week. I wrote the following “planctus” to her, trying to figure out how I feel about her death at such a young age, being my student and friend. I have lost students before–we all have, but this one was special, fearless, intense, memorable. Your star burned so brightly, a supernova that dazzled. A flamboyant fashionista hipster, you even had a pair of glasses with no lenses. You handled a cell phone as if it were a sword, texting at the speed of light. Now your star has gone out and your death humbles and confuses me. For whatever forces brought you to Baylor, sheer chance, fate, predestination, coincidence, I will always be so grateful for your presence these four years. You arrived as a child, but there was always an older person behind those eyes who wanted to know things, who wanted to belong, who wanted to be loved, who wanted to make sense of a chaotic and cruel world. They were four years of steady tumult, of chaos, of conversations over coffee, text messages, and we talked about art,Shakespeare, horses, San Francisco, equal rights, women’s rights, philosophy, God, whatever happened to be on your mind. Your horses, you were so proud of your team, bringing me posters which now hang in my office, mute testimony to both your continuing presence and your profound absence. Just like a dad, I was so proud of your success. Your generosity was broad, kind, uncompromising. Your loyalty was unbending. You sometimes trusted my judgment, and I appreciated that–you didn’t trust very easily. You could be a royal pain in the ass, but I always forgave you for talking back or acting out because that was my job. You always questioned me when you thought I was wrong, and rightly so. We read so many things together–Augustine, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Petrarch, Wilde, Bradbury, Coelho. You brought your skepticism to bear. It was your way, but you listened. You let me know when I was defending the establishment, and that I had no right to do that. Your intellect was keen, sharp, reactive. You worried about each class of kids that you cared for–they are so young and naive, you always said. Will they ever learn? Now, you are gone,and we who are left cannot fathom what has happened. You graduated last May,and since neither you nor I are good with goodbyes, we said our fair-wells and just walked away, assuming that we would drift together again at some point. Our four-year collaboration as professor and student was over. You left Baylor, you left Waco, and you returned to California, and something went wrong. I will not try to ponder what that was. You are now beyond earthly speculation, so it doesn´t matter. I pray to God that when your crisis came and you were afraid and lonely and desperate, that God was with you. I pray also that God will grant peace to your family and friends in their time of sorrow and grief. I will remember you always. My tears are for myself, to be shed in private, but I am profoundly sad because I know you will never show up in my office door again. You are now beyond judgment, beyond any mortal bonds, beyond reproach, cares, worries or tears. Your struggle is over. Your Baylor family adored you, and whether you ever knew it or not, but I think you did, we deeply cared for you. In the end we are left with memories and our own sorrow. As one of the more famous characters from Spanish literature says while lamenting the death of his daughter, “¿porque me dexaste penado? ¿porque me dexaste triste e solo? in hac lachrimarum valle.”