Photo courtesy of Tch Teaching Channel
by John B. Rosenman
Nearly three years ago, in November 2010, I sat before my World Literature class. For all I knew, I was dying. The only thing I did know for sure was that I couldn't go on.
I had been teaching for nearly forty-five years and had enjoyed basically good health. Physically, with arthritis and other problems, I began to deteriorate during the preceding summer. When I had returned to teach at Norfolk State University in the fall, things turned spooky. Standing in front of a class, my brain seemed disembodied from the rest of me and felt like it was floating five feet above my shoulders, near the ceiling. Soon after, starting at 150 pounds, I began to lose weight.
Finally, I went to my doctor. He ran all the tests, which turned up nothing. He concluded that my symptoms "screamed depression" and referred me to a psychiatrist who gave me pills. My weight dropped. One forty-five . . . one-forty . . . When it reached one-forty, my system began to shut down. Forget about having an appetite or going to the bathroom, and hello to a half-body hideous scarlet rash and eventually no damned energy whatsoever, especially when I later reached 120 pounds and could barely walk.
I'll skip some painful details. A CT Scan, some more blood tests, and a gastroenterologist would eventually nail it down. I had Celiac disease, a severe allergy caused by gluten, a protein found mainly in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. One out of 133 people has this condition, but more and more are finding themselves affected in this age of processed foods.
Anyway, I looked at my class of students that I loved so much and told them I could not continue. We had begun this literary journey of the creative imagination together, I said, and I wanted so much to complete it with them, but try as I might, I would not be there to reach the finish line at their side except in spirit.
It was painful to say this. I knew it wasn't my fault, but I still felt I had failed them. And then . . .
Then something happened that had never happened before in all my years of teaching.
Every student in my class rose to his or her feet and formed a line around the room, waiting patiently to hug me.
Some of them even hugged me twice.