Whole Life Magazine

August/September 2014

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/356111

Contents of this Issue


Page 41 of 43

42 wholelifetimesmagazine.com A fter surgeons discovered a cancerous lesion on my tongue and ordered a lengthy operation plus months of recovery, I thought of Buddha's Eightfold Path—specifi cally, Right Speech and Right Effort. I'd committed to teaching my usual journalism classes. Midway through, my bizarre diagnosis arrived. Surely, Right Effort meant I should ignore my doctor's advice to take the rest of the term off. I informed my dean I'd return to class three weeks after surgery—the nature of which I kept under my hat. Wise? I thought so at the time. I've taught for 20 years. I adore my students and I relish the challenge of inspiring Millennials away from cell phones and toward good writing. Classroom debate quickens my pulse. Offi ce hours offer meaningful connection. During one, I'd met Anna. She lacked reporting skills. Interviewing strangers frightened her. Right Effort meant I couldn't give up on her just because surgeons planned to lop off a dime-sized piece of my tongue. Cancer's the ultimate inconvenience; it's not in anybody's plan. I didn't want to think about how it had found me despite my no-smoking, little-drinking, daily exercise regimen. In the terrifying pre- op days, I met with students. I recorded podcast lectures, lined up guest writers. "Want me to edit students' papers?" my substitute asked. "Nope," I said. "I'll edit in the hospital." Sidestepping a trach and feeding tube, I reviewed a student's essay about how his family ate his pet goat, and fi elded questions about how to conduct interviews with a source who cussed out young journalists. If students chafed at the limitations of their virtual professor, they didn't let on. Two weeks later, I scribbled on my whiteboard, presented it to my husband. Tell doctor I'm returning to work. He shook his head. "He says to chill out." Right Effort seized me. Can't. Promised to teach. I staggered across campus with a scarf concealing scars at my neck where surgeons had removed lymph nodes to ensure the cancer hadn't spread. A bandage covered my arm, protecting the skin graft they'd taken for my tongue. My head throbbed. I could barely pronounce "s" and "d." "G" sounds proved impossible. I peered into the classroom. Sixteen faces turned. Eyes widened at my arm and swollen neck. I quaked in my boots as I attempted Right Speech. "Thith," I admitted, "ith one of the motht frightening thingth I've ever done. If you can't underthtand me, I'll repeat everything . . ." Brows furrowed. Pencils tapped desks. I blushed with the folly of my decision to sacrifi ce their education for what looked less like noble truth and more like ridiculous ego. Finally, one student grinned. "You sound like the monster from Young Frankenstein… you know, when he sings 'Puttin' on the Ritz.'" Sixteen faces turned to see if I'd get the reference to Mel Brooks' monster and his bungled lyrics in a top-hat duo with Gene Wilder. I threw back my head and laughed—something I hadn't attempted since surgery. Then, we got to work. We were kind. I forgave passive voice, poorly chosen interview sources and semicolon transgressions. They forgave my inability to lecture, rallying around collaborative learning assignments. I wrote chalkboard notes, tossed miniature chocolate bars to students who read them aloud. We got creative. We survived. Every afternoon, I drove home and collapsed. On the last day, we held a submission party. Students brought laptops and feature articles to send to editors. I brought donuts. In synch, everyone hit their "send" buttons and applauded. Anna remained after class. "I remembered what you said," she told me, "and kept sending out my travel essay. Ten editors said no. Lonely Planet Magazine said yes." She paused at the door. "Thanks for everything." That afternoon, delight dulled my pain. It would've been wise to take the term off instead of staggering into the classroom, bruised and stitched and mumbling. But my students, like me, persevered. They turned in assignments, passed the class. In watching me make Right Effort—attempts at Right Speech--perhaps they learned a lesson beyond the subject I'd been hired to teach. —Melissa Hart is the author of the memoir, Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family (Lyons, August 2014). She teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication, Univ. of Oregon. www.melissahart.com. backwords MODELING THE EIGHTFOLD PATH By Melissa Hart Cancer surgery offers an unexpected lesson

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Whole Life Magazine - August/September 2014