In prayer at the Woodlands Cemetery; In critique during class

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yesterday, before class, I sought a place to pray for all the heartbreak that is Japan.  I walked to a garden beyond the veil of steam that gushes through the old medical school grates.  I walked the alley between the new vet buildings.  I keep walking west and south up to 42nd Street, until I found myself here, at Woodlands.  Once the home (purchased in 1735) of Andrew Hamilton, the estate was ultimately willed to Hamilton's grandson William, a botanist and architectural enthusiast who built his grand mansion on the far edge of the grounds overlooking the Schuylkill River.

In time, part of the Woodlands estate became home to the University of Pennsylvania.  Part became a cemetery, and today that cemetery, with its original home and stables, sits on the National Historic Landmark list.  Thomas Eakins, the painter, is buried there.  So is Silas Weir Mitchell, the physician-writer, and William Rush, the sculptor, and Rembrandt Peale, the artist, and Jessie Willcox Smith, the illustrator, and Paul Philippe Cret and Wilson Eyre, both architects.  The man who founded Campbell Soup is here.  So is Anthony Drexel, who, among other things, funded Drexel University and helped create America's first true suburban community, Wayne. And once the body of George W. Childs, a quiet hero in two of my books, lay in the Drexel family vault at Woodland, his goodness permeating.

But I was the sole living soul on this gray day.  I went deep, to the edge, to the western reach of the river.  By the time I returned to campus my students were gathering for what would be a most intense, most extraordinary conversation.  My job, I keep reminding them, reminding me, is to push them each as far as they can go.  Because sometimes love looks like do not change a word.  And sometimes it looks like, frame it newly, reimagine the tone. Hope is there, inside both conversations. Faith that these young writers are going far. 



Unknown said...

What a lovely post. And I am so happy for your students - to have you in their lives every week - working your magic.



KFP said...

I never knew this history of my own city. Never knew Jessie Willcox Smith rested here.

Your students are not the only ones who learn from you. You teach me -- I am sure all of us who read you here and in your books -- so much about life, love, writing and words, soul and heart and giving.

And on top of that: history. And how to love a place. And pay attention. And extract meaning.

That's a lot.

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