Dr. Brett Bourbon is an associate professor of English at The University of Dallas.
Andrew and I talked about death a number of times. I never imagined that it would come between us so soon.
Death and loss were central facts in Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker,” a novel Andrew dearly loved. The novel is a wonder. Andrew loved this book. He wrote a brilliant senior novel essay about it. Toward the beginning of that essay he describes its protagonist:
“Amidst cultural wreckage, we find Riddley Walker, a peculiar twelve-year-old whose persistent, philosophical inquisitiveness sets him at odds with his brutish, complacent society: perplexed by both the present state of humanity and the notion that ‘[o]ur woal life is a idear we dint think of nor we dont know what it is’” (7).
When he describes Riddley Walker, he describes himself. He too was beautifully peculiar, with a persistent, philosophical inquisitiveness, at odds with brutishness and complacency.
I get stalled at this point. My words knot. The day of his funeral mass, when I spoke to my students in my senior novel class, a class Andrew had taken with me three years before, I thought I would be all right. But I wasn’t. At one point, I saw Andrew raising his hand so clearly, asking again one of his persistent, philosophical questions. I wanted to tell the class: Andrew was here once like you, in this classroom. His questions, even when they were riddles, embodied the spirit of thought and moral character that justifies our time spent studying art. I wanted to tell my class this, but I stalled. I did not want to cry standing in front of them, although a few them were crying already. I got stuck in a silent wrestling with myself. I stood there for three minutes saying nothing. My students understood. I felt their care in their own silence.
Andrew loved asking a particular kind of question, a kind of question that sailed away into such fundamental seas that there was never an easy answer. I called them his “world peace questions.” They were questions that would require years of study to understand, but they were the texture of his life. I thought he would have years in which to find his answers.
As a freshman he wrote to me: “Do we know ideas about the thing or the thing itself? Also, what times will you be in your office tomorrow?” Much later his notes to me sounded like this: “Words, it seems to me, are a sort of currency by way of which we can talk about the world, so that I don’t have to bring a tiger with me everywhere I go, should I feel the need to communicate something about tigers during the day. Stevens says that money is a form of poetry, but perhaps words and language are also a form of money.”
Six months after he graduated he wrote me a single sentence: “How do poems offer us company?” I think he had already found one answer. He offered it at the end of his senior novel essay:
“If we are worthy of a fiction that claims us and a fiction is worthy of us, then that fiction must always be working upon us, and our work upon that fiction is never finished. If we need these worthy fictions, it is because, in eliciting our attention, demanding from us our justice and love, they can help crown and miter us over ourselves.”
In his life Andrew offered me the best company. When he gave his senior novel presentation, I brought my oldest daughter to hear him speak about “Riddley Walker.” She was thrilled by his essay and fell in love with the novel. It became for her, as it was for him, her favorite novel. Always Andrew gave gifts, even when he had no thought that he was giving anything. I cherish the gifts he gave me.
Dr. William Doyle is an associate professor of economics at The University of Dallas.
Those of us who grieve for Andrew Esherick grieve not so much for him as for ourselves. We have been deprived — at least for a time — of the presence of one of the best people I have ever known.
Andrew was a student in my Fundamentals of Economics class. I knew economics was far from his main interest, but he was one of those rare people who considered everything to be important and seemed supremely confident that one day he would discover the connection between all of life’s dimensions.
He always sat in the front row of my class, and shortly after the course began, he started staying after class to see what I might have to say and what I might be interested in.
We discovered we had a mutual affinity for the poetry of Wallace Stevens and spent many hours discussing the critical misunderstanding of “Sea Surface Full of Clouds and that extremely problematic last line of “The Snowman.”
“For the listener who listens in the snow / And, nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
I could not give up on the idea that with Stevens’ penchant for juxtaposing words in unique ways a better editor would have convinced him to rewrite that line:
“For the listener who listens in the snow / And, nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there, and the nothing THERE that is.”
But I am a music fanatic, and if Andrew reminded me of any of the great composers it would have been Franz Schubert. The way he could shift from desolation to sublimity in a single sentence was something that I have very seldom witnessed and that I encounter regularly only in Schubert’s music.
If Schubert wrote great compositions like his “Impromptu No. 1 in C Minor,” his last “Piano Sonata in B Flat Major, D.960” or his unfinished “Eight Symphony in B Minor, D. 759” for anybody, it would have been for someone like Andrew.
It seemed that Andrew and I could talk forever about the sublime vistas of life that exist side by side with its tragic dimension — or at least talk about them until I really had to get home for dinner.
During our visits, people would inevitably join us. It turns out that the University of Dallas has far more people fascinated with sublime vistas than most other places, and the lot of us ended up having more fascinating conversations about life, beauty, truth and art (with a touch of economics thrown in) than I ever would have thought possible.
I have no doubt that he will be sorely missed by his family and friends, not to mention by me. He left us far too early.
But if I could paraphrase a line from Schubert’s headstone, I would remind those of us who deeply miss him and grieve at his passing that:
“Life and Art have entombed here a fair treasure, but even fairer hopes.”