I’m getting ready to go home for the evening, but tonight before I left I needed to walk around the department.
I was elected to this department in 1994. When I came here for the on-campus job interview, I met Taddesse Adera. In the 11+ years that followed, I worked with him on committees, shared moments like the Toronto MLA drink with him and one of his childhood friends in celebration of our birthdays (both Taddesse and I were born in December), laughed and agonized with him over professional and departmental matters, and greeted him whenever I saw him, which was nearly every working day. My office door is open as I type these words, and I can almost see the closed door to his office from where I sit, two doors and a corner and, now, a lifetime away.
Taddesse died, quite unexpectedly, two days ago. Since that time, all of us in the department have been trying to come to grips with his loss. After the first shock of the news of a death, the hardest thing for me is always simply trying to comprehend the loss. I don’t mean “comprehend” as in “why or how could this have happened?” I wonder that, too, but the hardest thing for me is simpler. I am suddenly compelled to list for myself what has been lost. That list is always, always staggeringly long, and Taddesse’s death has been no different in that regard.
Except that Taddesse’s quiet dignity, his insistence on wearing both his learning and his accomplishments lightly, his very private nature, his courtesy, and the strength of his presence among us were so much a part of my daily life that I am troubled by how easily I expected them, and him, to last. In some respects, Taddesse’s gift to us magnanimously concealed its own extent, its own magnitude. And now that he is no longer here, that magnitude reveals itself in ways that I hope would please him after all.
There is no one in the department this evening. All my colleagues have gone home. I hear no voices in the hallway. It is time for me to go home, too. When in a moment I switch off the lights and lock my door, I will turn again to face the door to Taddesse’s office, a door closed and locked (it was always open when he was here, and he was here what seemed to be 12 hours a day), a door covered with photocopied poems from Whitman, Auden, Tennyson, O’Searcaigh, and Shelley, a door with wilting flowers in its plastic pouch. At the top there is a picture of Taddesse in full teaching stride. The photograph is captioned: “He gave us the courage to share our beliefs and to stand up for what we believed in. He will be sorely missed.”
How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!
–G. M. Hopkins