Tag Archives: memory

The Tribe Loses a Valued Member


A few years ago, a student came to me to express concerns about a professor.

The student, a very conservative Republican, was worried that a political science professor, who had worked in Democrats’ offices in Washington, D.C., would not appreciate her expressing her opinions in class.

I didn’t know her professor super well, but had worked with him and thought he would be open minded. I assured the student that he would probably prefer that she express herself—that most professors prefer students who care enough about the class topic to engage in discussion.

We were walking and talking, heading towards Basile Hall where I was going to teach and she was going to attend her political science class. Her professor was coming down the hall from the other direction, and when he saw her, he grinned and said: “Look—here comes the voice of reason.”

Now, said the wrong way, maybe with scorn or sarcasm, those words would have cut deeply and reinforced the student’s concerns. But, they were said with warmth and genuine humor, by a jolly man with a twinkle in his eye. The student laughed. David Doerge laughed. They headed off to class, where, I’m sure, the discussion was lively, but David probably loved every minute.

It’s all in the delivery, and David could deliver. He was irrepressible at faculty meetings where you had to beware of his funny, rambling side commentary. He was an active faculty member, serving in leadership roles and adding an important, distinct voice to discussions. He was good to work with on special projects or committees. We started at MMU in the same year and I think he was a star of the class of the fall of 01.

He and I didn’t always agree, although I think we agreed more often than we disagreed, but even when David and I were in opposite camps, his point of view was always insightful and his ideas always worth listening to.

He wanted to think things out. He wanted full discussion. His was a probing mind and a sharp wit.

And he will be deeply missed. The news this weekend was that David has died.

What a shock. His energy and humor seemed boundless, and for his voice to be still feels deeply wrong.

Still, I know many others—his family and life partner, for example—feel the pain much more personally and painfully. Any discomfort I feel is but a faint echo, and I wish them healing in their time of loss.

I know that my own fantasy of David’s afterlife reflects my perspective and not his, but bear with me. If I were in charge of Heaven, I wouldn’t look too closely at David’s credentials. I would direct Saint Peter to let him in just for the pure entertainment value.

From Lensing Funeral Home, photo of David Doerge. He often smiled.

From Lensing Funeral Home, photo of David Doerge. He often smiled.

Besides being smart, David was also sharply funny. I wish I could recall some of his zingers to repeat, but honestly the few that come to mind probably are best left unrecorded here. Let’s just say that David could not help but poke fun at the pomposity of the powers that be.

Anyway, back to my fantasy. God sends a memo to Saint Peter, telling him to let David Doerge pass the pearly gates. David walks up and Peter spies him, winks at him and gives him a mischievous grin.

“Look,” he says. “Here comes the voice of reason.”

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Preserving Memories, One Byte or Scarf At A Time


Grotto May Pole

May pole dance in Mount Mercy Grotto, May Day 2012.

Memory was the theme of the day for me.

For one thing, I read this excellent post, which is mostly a presentation made by Mary Sharp, a very sharp woman who is always worth listening too. As she notes, the digital age can shift information instantly, but it can also change it while it shifts it.

My son’s Microsoft friends are fond of saying “The Internet never forgets,” but Mary legitimately notes that digital data can also vaporize forever in the blink of an eye. And it’s not just due to catastrophe or deliberate vandalism—merely shifting the format of digital data renders the stuff stored in the old format obsolete and potentially lost. Quick—find the nearest functioning 8-track player.

We know some of the most ancient languages ever written thanks to the Rosetta Stone. But, these days, do we set anything in stone? When I was a young pup journalist, I was known as a pretty good photographer—back in the days when photos were few and precious and expensive. You shot a self-rolled set of 36 frames on black-and-white film and thought you had covered that event pretty well, thank you.

These days, I tell my student photographers that electrons are free and they merely have to inconvenience a few thousand of them to create a photo, so they should inconvenience millions of them. Shoot, shoot, shoot. An 8 gigabyte SD card holds a lot.

Yet, back in my day, one of the chemicals we used to create negatives or photo prints was “fixer.” And when it was fixed, it was done, baby. It wouldn’t last forever, but it would last for years and it was set when it was fixed. Today, you can rearrange electrons however you want. Information is rarely fixed.

Thus our combined knowledge—the memory of our species—is mutable, easy to transfigure, malleable, slippery and elusive. Truth is hard to nail down.

I’ve noted before that in this information age, students seem to remember less and less. They can’t be troubled with learning when World War II started because Google rides around in their back pockets. But who watches the watcher? Who owns and can transform the stored knowledge of mankind—and who protects it if it’s merely inconvenienced electrons that can dance on command and also vanish?

Hmmm.

I needed a break from this grim reality. Although I could not attend it all, I saw the May Day Celebration in Mount Mercy’s Grotto this afternoon and felt a little better. It was a recreation of a type of dance done there in the 1920s. It was living memory, and good to see. The stones of the Grotto will be there tomorrow, thanks in part of Jane Gilmor and the restoration work she has spearheaded.

Jane’s doing good work on Mary’s problem. She’s keeping some memories, patterned in stone, alive. More power to her.

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A blog for George


Throw a maple tree’s “helicopter” in the air, and Nikayla is delighted. Her eyes light up, her whole face smiles and an infectious chortle bubbles up from deep in her tummy.

There’s something familiar about the twinkle in her eyes and the way she is ready with a deep tummy chortle. It reminds me of George Schultz.

June 16 was a long day, spent in hospital rooms, waiting for the inevitable that nobody was ready for. Finally, just before 5 in room 81-15 of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, George’s light, irregular breathing came to a halt. Then it was crying time.

But crying is not a good way to remember George. He didn’t do a lot of that. He was a laugher. Somehow, it’s fitting that his final words broke up the room. A large chunk of his large family was clustered around his bed that morning. His wife and his sons and his daughters held his and each other’s hands. George only had two hands, so the “spare” hands were clasped together across George’s abdomen.

Final words?

“Quit pressing on my chest.”

Not all that profound, perhaps, but well timed. I’m sure he heard the laughter. But for the oxygen, fluid in his left lung and the morphine, he would have led it. He often did.

Steve Schultz told a typical George story shortly after his father had passed on. He and George had been working late on the farm at harvest time, and Shirley had left two large casseroles out for them to eat. When George came in, he asked Steve if there was any supper.

“I don’t think there’s enough for you dad,” Steve reports he said, a quip that appealed to George’s active funny bone. I imagine it was a while before they ate. Steve says he’ll never forget how it seemed George would never stop laughing.

Unfortunately, he would.

But, from another point of view, George will always be laughing.

I remember several decades ago meeting Audrey’s large clan for the first time. We ate supper in the tiny dinning room of the farmhouse, the table groaning under the weight of good food, the walls probably almost bursting apart from the energy and noise of George and Shirley and their eight kids.

It was a meal that was more than a little bit intimidating. Although we both came from large Catholic families, mine was rather bookish and quiet compared to the Schultzes. There was a constant, almost deafening din at the dinner table, frequently interrupted by laughter which was usually led by the family patriarch and joker-in-chief, George.

I would say that the world is a bit colder and quieter without his teasing smile and infectious laugh. But I think that would be a lie.

Like the shrapnel from the Korean War embedded in his body that will go into the grave with him, George’s laughter is too deeply embedded in this world to be removed. There are echoes of it when his children or grandchildren start joking or teasing. It even extends another generation, to great grandchildren.

Throw a maple tree’s “helicopter” in the air, and Nikayla Sebers, three generations later but another joker-in-chief at heart, is delighted. Her eyes light up, her whole face smiles and an infectious chortle bubbles up from deep in her tummy.

I’ve seen blue eyes that twinkle that way before. I’ve seen another face where even the eyebrows seem to smile. That deep belly laugh—it sounds familiar. George is still with us.

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