An open letter to Dr. Edward Hill's mother:
We met once, in the Fall of 1992, at Dr. Hill's bedside in the hospital. I told you then what a great man your son is. I want to tell you again. Like hundreds of other Duke students, Dr. Hill was my teacher, my role model, my moral conscience and my dear friend. He taught me how to speak, how to think and how to interact with others.
Dr. Hill challenged us (no, he helped us) to face our own beliefs, insecurities and prejudices. He helped us to seek out our limitations and understand them so that they would no longer be our limitations. This, in particular, I tried to learn from this man who seemed to have so few limitations of his own and, because of him, I was able to take risks that I could not have otherwise taken.
Dr. Hill spent more time with his students than any other professor I know. He taught two classes, was the head of Duke's multicultural center, lived in our dormitories, got involved in our issues and solved our problems. He gave his life to us and I do not know how to thank you. I used to try and thank him, but he wouldn't have it. I hope he knew how important he was for so many of us.
I remember visiting him in the hospital one time when things were particularly bad, only to find his bed covered with papers and the nurse fetching library books and the fresh notebook that he had requested. Dr. Hill was preparing a seminar on James Baldwin for the 1996-1997 school year and he did not want to fall behind. I remember when he heard my first speech and told me it sucked. I remember that when he was so sick, he did not even have the strength to walk to class--but he usually did anyway. I remember when he, a black man, taught me more about my Judaism than my rabbi ever did. I remember the expression on his face when I brought him the homemade chicken soup that my mother had made. I remember when Dr. Hill first told me that he had AIDS.
Dr. Hill weighed less than 120 pounds for most of the last three years, but he had more strength and vigor than anyone I have ever known. He never seemed to be dying of AIDS, for he was too busy living with it.
I remember how I felt when Dr. Hill first told me he was sick. It's nothing like I feel right now. He had too many lessons for me to explain all of them here, but those of us who have learned them will never forget: Love yourself; empathize rather than sympathize; actively choose life; use your hands when you speak; participate in the world; speak and think clearly and only be angry when it helps--and, even then, only for a day.
When I wrote a column for The Chronicle, Dr. Hill was my toughest critic. He never liked it when I lost my focus, so I will stop rambling now. Let me say only that if I can ever be half as compassionate, intelligent, productive, sincere and active as Dr. Hill, I will have far surpassed any expectations that I could possibly have for myself. And even though he is no longer here to help me along, I will continue to do my best without him. I certainly could not have had a better teacher.
Thank you, Mrs. Hill, for sharing your son with us. I am not sure if we deserved him, but thank you.
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