Life and Death and the Power of Place

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Visit John Syme at daybook.davidson.edu.

“The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero

College campuses are microcosms, literally “small worlds.” Some days you see the small, some days you see the world.

And some days, even when you can’t see much at all, you can feel this college’s kind, communal heart beating, big as life.

One day in early February, I was having a condolence cup of coffee with a student, in the wake of my beloved dog Dodger’s death on January 24. Dodger was chasing a squirrel on campus alongside a building and he was going so hard and fast that when he reached an outcropping in the brick wall, he hit it full force. I have to believe he died happy.

The friend who’d invited me for coffee, Elyas Munye ’13, is one of many students I have met in recent years by intermediary of Dodger. As we sat together and grieved a good dog gone, Elyas reminded me how much Dodger was our dog in this campus community, not just mine.

“Campus community”—literally “field,” and “together, one.” Small world, indeed, in the very best sense.
Our chat turned to other recent passings, losses that came too soon, without warning, and that are still fresh in the living memory of the current student body, not to mention the rest of us.

Elyas told me his memories about John Frankel ’11, a fun, funny, smart student leader who died in a car accident in upstate New York on Dec. 31, 2010. His classmates honor John with FrankelFest and the John Frankel Memorial Scholarship.

We talked about dear Robert Whitton ’66, Davidson’s longest-serving “visiting” professor of math, who died Nov. 11, 2011, after being struck by a car on Concord Road. Many from across the global Davidson community have contributed to the Robert Clark Whitton Mentoring Fund, as one way to carry on the man’s irrepressibly good-humored attention to true friendship with Davidson students.

Elyas told me about many tearful and funny and sad and joyful and creative conversations he has had with students and faculty and staff, about Robert and John and Dodger, oh my.

We talked about the collective living memory of Davidson, and the care we feel to carry forward in our own lives the lives of friends gone on ahead from this place.

Small world, big as life.

—John Syme

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