Monday, February 28, 2011

My Dr. Facknitz and the Gift of Love

"We must never forget to love no matter how mundane the moment."
-Mark Facknitz

Photo by Alice Facknitz

Sharon, Clementine, Charleigh, and I were passing through Harrisonburg one day, and we stopped to have lunch at IHOP with "my Dr. Facknitz," who prefers that I call him Mark and has been trying to get me to do so for at least least nine years.  Sometimes I manage to call him Mark when he and I are together or talking on the phone, but I refer to him, always, as my Dr. Facknitz behind his back.  Never Dr. Facknitz.  Always my Dr. Facknitz.  Still my Dr. Facknitz, although eight years have passed since I graduated from JMU with my M.A.

Sharon was curious about the sticktoitiveness of this relationship, and I'm pretty sure I did a poor job of explaining it.  He--my Dr. Facknitz--would say it was born of my saying something kind to him after his dad's death and Wallace Stevens' "Martial Cadenza": funny the things we remember.  I would've long ago forgotten that moment had he not reminded me of it so many times, and I wouldn't have had kindness to speak had I not already admired and appreciated him.

When I studied at JMU, my Dr. Facknitz's teaching style appealed to me because he was the only English professor I'd ever known who seemed to realize that not all students are auditory learners.  I'm a visual learner, and the pictures he drew and movie clips he showed helped me "get it."  Also, his teaching style revealed a true passion for what he taught, and this helped me because--to put it simply--I have to feel about something before I can think about it.

Among other novels, I read Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune (a WWI novel recommended by my Dr. Facknitz for my fellow students and me) in preparation for comprehensive exams.  I loved the novel and wanted to contribute to what had been written about it by examining its biblical allusions.  I asked my Dr. Facknitz if he would advise this as a senior-thesis project.  He agreed and advised; I wrote and graduated.  The end. 

Only it wasn't, because I have visited his house, he has visited mine, and we have broken bread together many times, in many places.  We e-mail one another and talk on the phone.  He loves my children.  He loves me, too; he's been loving students for a long time.

I was present when my Dr. Facknitz became an elder in his Presbyterian church.  They laid hands on him.  (His daughter Hannah--eleven years old at the time--looked at me, I remember, and said solemnly: "I feel so sorry for my dad. They're probably going to touch his hair.")  Then they charged him to use his imagination and heart.  I remember my eyes welling up as I thought, with gladness: he does that every day

In fact, my Dr. Facknitz advised me, once: "Teaching is simple so long as you love your students, love yourself, and teach as though your hair is on fire."  I have found his words to be true: teaching is simple under those circumstances; however, it's no small thing to keep that criteria in place for a year, let alone for decades.  But that's what my Dr. Facknitz has done.  As to how he and I remain in one another's lives: who knows!  I don't spend time wondering; I just lean with gratefulness into love when it comes.

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