I don’t often mention being on the southwest coast of Thailand on December 26, 2004. In the rare instance that I do, or it inadvertently comes up, it’s with far more acceptance than my previous self, with still raw sensibilities, could sufficiently feign. I hold no allusions that the events of that day will be graspable to others. There is no universal language for the individual experience; no way to translate things in a way that encapsulates all the subtle nuances and bold complexities of subjectivity. There are emotions and memories that have burrowed themselves away deep, beyond reach of our impulse to generalize. Yet, I am far more welcoming of people’s efforts to do so. Of their efforts to empathize through the lens of their own experienced sorrows. Of the underlying humanity that motivates their gesture. Of the sincerity and openness that fuels their inherent desire to connect. And of the humbling instances where I am met with mirrored vulnerability.
Mr. P. was an eccentric. An intellectual. A philosophizing soul who was respected by staff and idolized by students. Broad-shouldered and tall, he had a lengthy beard matched by a pair of thick sideburns. When I first met him, I expected a deep, authoritative voice to emerge, but instead a far more tempered one spoke, with a candid hippie-like inflection reminiscent of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Though he evades description, if I were to venture one, physically, Mr. P. kind of resembled Santa Claus. Or rather, St. Nick’s maverick brother, who rebelled by rejecting the family business, and absconding to the Canadian West Coast, proclaiming, “To hell with snow and pine trees, man. I’m moving south and teaching the generation of tomorrow!”