A certain character has visited enough times for me to begin to think of him as a friend (at the least). I’d like to introduce him to you…
We rambled into Groten Hall, room 347, at a couple minutes to two. For the rest of our university career (except for this class), we would perfect the art of late, frantic arrivals. However, we were first year students, and this was our first day of classes. Most of us knew each other from freshman orientation, and now we would share First Year Seminar – a bland title for a bland two-credit course, with a bland catalogue description to match: “An introduction to the essentials needed for successful integration to academic life, Tuesdays and Thursdays / 2:05-2:55 / Groten Hall Room 347 / Dr. Thaddeus Bogert, D. Phil.”
Groten Hall was the second oldest building on campus, brownstone brick with weathered white Gothic pillars and trim. Because the campus had developed north, out from its original parcel, Groten Hall was now the most remote building on the university grounds. Room 347 was an ample space with windows stretching almost ceiling to floor and offering a view of the old oaks. Amazingly, the room still enjoyed its original dark cherry wood floor, buffed nicely though showing the character of its years.
As we entered (not quietly) and took our seats, Professor Bogert hunched over his heavy desk, baptized in whatever he was reading. Unruly, grey hair spilled over his ears. His glasses hung at the end of his nose, defying gravity and refusing to tumble over the edge. The elbow patches on his brown cardigan were nearly worn through. Prof Bogert never looked up, not so much as a flinch or a grunt. He sat dead-still, as if entranced by some other world. Our laughter and boisterous chatter crescendoed, still nothing. Proffessor Bogert seemed unaware that there was a single other person in the universe. The only hint that he wasn’t a wax character was the slight – ever so slight – motion from his lips, like some inward thought escaped in silence. A time or two, we caught a glimpse of what I would now describe (though I could not have described it then) as the crack of a quiet grin. I’ve now come to know this expression now – the moment when something beautiful catches you by surprise, like the crisp whiff of Fall or an unexpected kiss.
But there he sat.
And then, at precisely the moment when the clock on the back wall clicked 2:05, Professor Bogert stood up. He stuck his pipe in his mouth and walked slowly around to the front of his desk. He leaned back on the front edge and took a deep pull from his Virginia tobacco. And waited.
The second hand on the clock clicked in rhythm. The wood floors creaked with our slightest movement. The walls groaned quietly, thanks to the old boiler-heater. Professor Bogert took another pull. And waited.
Then, beginning at the back lefthand corner of the room, the old professor caught Levine’s eye – Levine, the one who sat as far away as possible. He locked on the poor boy and for five or six seconds held his gaze, smiling wide and deep, as if he was pouring a smile into poor, nervous Levine. Then, one by one, Prof Bogert went down the back row, generously peering into each person’s eyes for a few seconds, seconds that felt like days. The clock ticked, the floors creaked. And the old man with the kind, steel eyes took his sweet, sweet time with every single one of us.
We sat spellbound, unnerved but drawn in, while Professor Bogert took another long pull, exhaling hickory smoke. For the first time, he spoke. “The world is more beautiful than you’ve imagined. The world is more terrifying than you’ve imagined. What should we do with this truth?”