The letter.

Discussion in 'General Conversation' started by sal_jr, Jan 30, 2006.

  1. sal_jr

    sal_jr New Member

    Ithaca, MI
    Friday night I got a phone call from my grandfather. There was a letter for me at his house. Nothing new... I get em all the time there cause I lived there during college. He said he would slip in in my sister's car down the road- he knew I'd be seeing her saturday at my parents' cabin. The next day my sis tossed the letter to me and said "Getting ready to go back for another class?"

    "Nah, I replied, but I gotta see what they are offering." totally thinking the letter inocuous.

    It looked like any stock envelope from the alumni association. I half expected that the department I got my degree from may have accidentally sent me a course schedule, knowing fully well I am through with all they had to offer for 5 years now. Part of me wondered if it was a paper for their annual beg-a-thon, as is the practice for most alumni associations. My wife and I were not planning on giving. I opened the letter to see what is is they wanted.... more specifically how much.

    The first line destroyed a part of me... a big part. It read, "On January 13, 2006, Professor Robin Hough passed away from non-hodgekins Lymphoma." My heart sunk. I gasped and threw the letter from my hands as though I had picked up a red coal from a campfire.... The only words that came to mind and lips were "Oh Jesus!". I never finished the rest of the letter. I just picked it back up and handed it to my wife and listened to her sob as she sat in the back seat of our explorer as I drove. I still havent looked at the rest of the letter.

    Dr Hough, (pronounced Huff) was my mentor. He was the first professor who took my writing style and attack mode seriously, and used my natural energy to his advantage to build a decent student out of a drunken partying wild man. His education was in Spirituals and Blues and Slave music and tribal music of rural Africa. Robin WAS THE difinitive voice as far as the religious implication of the music was concerned. He knew a lot of the old blues musicians personally. One of my fellow students who was African American used to call him the blackest white guy in the whole baby boomer generation. Robin often joked that that same student was the whitest african american, michael jackson included, of the last 40 years.

    I never took Robin's Spirituals and Blues courses. As he was my advisor, my mentor, and the head of the Department of Religion, I instead opted to go from his beginning religion course right to his most advanced class, the 501 level seminar course. That is where I met my wife. There Robin forced us to think of other situations ALWAYS while trying to pry the lid off of religion. He took all of our class to a level 4 prison to discuss with prisoners what faith means to a "lifer", what belonging to a faith-based group meant to an incarcerated man, and what religious ritual does to a hardened criminal. Then he let us make up our minds as to what we saw and report to him in our own words how we distilled the information. He trusted us. He let us have and run with our instincts. Instincts that a kid out of high school doesnt know he can trust, and in some cases are yet to be formed.

    Later on that year my (then) girlfriend and I took 2 more of Robin's courses together. Robin often discussed our approach as a team with a lot of energy. He loved it when Elena and I would rip a topic apart, and always encouraged us to do joint discussions. He liked Elena's analytical breakdowns, followed by my lively side notes, translations, visual aids, and jokes. He claimed that together we were the perfect professor... that we could inform and intrigue while making it relevant to people our age... I thought the same of him.

    At one point in our course on Goddess worship, he let the two of us cover 2 days of lecture on Pagan sexual rituals and how Christianity overcame the lure of "overt sexuality" in popular rituals of the time to overtake competing greek faiths. He opted instead to let us have the healm of a couple of classes, and to sit and take notes. Another time he let Elena and I take over another course of his, to lecture on the theorist Mircea Eliade, and another day to discuss Sigmund Freud. He trusted us. He trusted us because he knew he could, but he also did it because of his nature.

    He brought big names to the small school we were at. Thomas Lynch (The man who was the inspiration for "6 feet under", author, and mortician) came and lectured. So did Elaine Paegels (Gnostic Gospels), so did Wendi Donnigar, so did Palden Gyatsu... all in one semester among many many semesters. Big big stellar names in religious theory and writing. Robin brought them cause he knew his students were sponges, waiting on his next move to bring a new light to our lives. Personally, I hung on every word of his lectures. Every boston-accented word that dripped from his Harvard educated tounge was as gold to me, because he treated me as if I were a golden student... and did the same with every student.

    He brought examples every day. How can a man discuss minoan culture and make it interesting and relevant to a bunch of teens and twentysomethings without letting the students hold a 2600 year old clay pot? I personally held a piece of minoan culture. I touched the face of history thanks to Robin. I saw a many many centuries old copy of the "Tain". I touched the leather pages. Countless Druids died for having a copy in their hands, at the order of Christianity enforcers of England, and I held it in my hands. I got to feel what it was to hold an original holy document. I touched Vatican papers. I touched a bible from the 1650s. I had my fingers on a golden artifact from Laos. A jade artifact from ancient china. I held a fat, caricature-like African statue of a firtility Goddess from a thousand years before Christ... Robin put it in our hands and asked us to just try and think of the person who created the fetish, and what they wanted the statue to convey.... the miracle the statue was intended for:

    the gift of a child prayed for millenia ago.

    It was in these lessons that I grew to respect all religions, archaeology, and the strength of the soul of man. It was Robin who introduced me first to the writings of Eliade, the writings of CS Lewis, and the writing of Elie Wiesel.

    And now, alone and in pain from years of bad hips, knees, and lungs, and a year and a half of non-hodgekins lymphoma, Robin is released from the ties that bind us to this existence. Robin is free of the pains of mortality. Likely, Robin is carrying on with God in his typical rhetorical way, and figuring out the very thing that built and fed his hunger for religion for nearly 7 decades.

    Im only sad that I didnt know he was degrading so fast- that I couldnt at least send him some flowers and a kind message to help see him off this planet. Everyone knows where he went. That isnt even an issue.

    His last message to me was to beg me to pay attention to my wife... To spend as much time as I could with her, as he never had a woman to spend time with that he thought loved him as much as he felt he loved others. He told us both that we were a solid couple, an inspiration, and that we were both great kids that needed to go places and not waste our minds. He said he wished he could have made our wedding. That although he was in a hospital in Boston, that he wished he could walk up the steps of the church and see us off.

    Yeah.... Robin, I understand such a regret. And I will miss you too. Now go rest. Ill have a lot of questions for you sir, soon as my work is done here.


  2. loanwizard

    loanwizard Well-Known Member

    That was a beautiful Eulogy Sal. thanks for letting us know a little about a man that meant so much to you.

  3. FishMan

    FishMan New Member

    Sal, Beautiful read. Never stop. It is easy for me to see that your efforts with words will effect many people in your lifetime, most however will never allow you to know this fact so allow me to tell you in advance.

    Thanks from the many and myself

  4. screen

    screen New Member

    Sterling, Illinois
    God bless Robin!
    No one will know your pain, the memory will enrich your soul!
  5. Deltalover

    Deltalover New Member

    Tracy Calif
    Sal, I am sorry for your loss and through your writing I got a glimpse of wonderful and interesting person! A very nice and fitting tribute to a friend and mentor! I am sure he is proud of you and will never die in your heart!
  6. sal_jr

    sal_jr New Member

    Ithaca, MI
    Prior to joining this site, I didnt have much of a retreat to vent my mind, other than the seat in front of Robin's desk... or more aptly, to the side of him. He never had students, only colleagues. He never let a person sit in a chair across from his desk, or to approach him with the reverence a student is expected to give a doctor of study. He purposely turned it sideways so no matter where you sat, you sat at his side and together the both of you hammered out the question of the day. It never mattered what topic... If it invigorated you, that alone got Robin going. That drive that people have for whatever motivates them- seeing the drive I think was the thing that he sought daily.

    See, The BOC is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, this is not only a cool site to learn about fishing and technique, but moreover to learn about my fellow man. A virtual barstool at "Cheers" where I can be the Frasier, or the Norm, or more likely than not, the Cliff Clavend of the day, spouting what is in my head like a fountain of useless and droning information. It is a fishing site, but on the right day it is a joke site, a blog, a what's-what in world politics, and at the very least it is a refuge from the planet- a calm harbor.

    I was always like the way I am- I just credit Robin for giving me a place to start from... Religion: The cliff overlooking the oceanic limitlessness of the soul, as he used to quote Freud. I chose the study based upon a few days of his class alone, not knowing that 2 years later I'd actually graduate college with some sort of a degree, crediting his patience with my eventual control over my hot temper and lack of perspective. His drive to feed my mind made me work harder to please him. In turn my drive for mastering his offering lit him up when I'd waltz in with another mental conundrum. When I left, someone else would fill his seat with their world, and he'd start all over again for them as he did for me.... As though that student's world were all that mattered.

    In a lot of ways I can say the BOC has been my surrogate for his office since I got out of school. It all just happened that way by chance, I suppose. Ironic... who would have thought a religion teacher would turn the life of a spastic directionless kid into a man... and who would have thought a bunch of catfishermen on the internet could be qualified as a mental refuge!!! Goes to show ya how worthless stereotypes are.

    I sincerely thank you guys for letting me vent, I appreciate the good will and kind words- a verbal salve for me when I seriously desparately needed one. Though my goal in posting was to just get the whole dang knot out of my chest for a brief moment of rest, it seems the added bonus I have recieved here is in knowing that I can follow Robin's lead and continue to learn about man wherever I am in my walk; To learn of man, his search for the face of God, and all the beautiful and sacred things that man and woman do in the meantime to comfort them in the profane world we all live in. Yes, fishing falls into that category too.

    thanks guys. I really needed ya today and the BOC rose up to support me again.

  7. nosnag

    nosnag New Member

    This mans body is at rest but his heart and soul will live forever in the makeup of your own being.
    I was very moved by your eulogy of this mentor,who helped mould your life and thoughts..That said,I believe that his work here was done by passing his knowledge and inspirations on to the younger generations.He has passed the torch to be carried on forever.

  8. Patmansc

    Patmansc Well-Known Member

    Greer, SC
    Pat Chaney
    Sal, anymore it is rare for a teacher to open up a student's mind to the joy of learning. Even more rare is the instructor capable of opening up the pathway between the mind and the soul, which allows the student to soar into the world of self-actualization. It is obvious that Robin was a most magnificent personification of this most rare and wonderful teacher/mentor. Do not mourn his passing, but celebrate his life and the memories that will forever live in your mind and in your heart. And pass on to others that which he was able to pass on to you - a greater love and respect for learning and for life itself.
  9. Rainman4u2

    Rainman4u2 Guest

    I'm sorry for the loss of your mentor Sal. It's obvious he taught his student well.

  10. H2O Mellon

    H2O Mellon New Member

    Wow. Sor tof puts things into perspective.
  11. metalman

    metalman Well-Known Member

    People who affect our lives so deeply are few and far between. I send you and your wife my heartfelt condolences. Your words did the man proud...W
  12. Cheryl

    Cheryl Well-Known Member

    Sal, I agree with Winston! Those are my sentiments exactly. I read this yesterday and never could find the words to post. Mentors are special people.
  13. Bubbakat

    Bubbakat New Member

    Sal, I really don't know what to say here. From your post this man was a great influence on you. I can say one thing as long as his students are alive this man will never leave.

    With the heart felt feeling you put into that post and the compassion you have for him. You need to take up his torch and let his light shine where ever you go.

    He hasn't stopped he has extended his teaching onto another younger body.
    I know he will RIP.