15 years ago, I entered Multnomah Seminary to re-establish my faith, understand more about this God that drew me to Him, and hoped to serve in some sort of ministry. My faith was still a bit shaky, I was feeling a bit of PTSD from my evangelical upbringing where faith had been used to control instead of love. I knew I still believed but what? I was given an assignment to write a “spiritual autobiography”, the richest assignment which allowed me to see how God had been present in my life all along, bringing me, step by step closer to Him. While writing that assignment, I noticed how God used my dear Victorian Literature professor, Dr Donald Weinstock, a Jewish man, to comfort me, to guide me and to give me an example of what faith could look like. I wrote Dr. Weinstock to let him know.
I was recently given the assignment to write my own “spiritual autobiography”. For my research, I took to reading years of journals which included the one I wrote for your Poetry and the Self class. In that journal as well as others surrounding that time frame I was struck at how much I benefited from your wisdom, guidance and care. It was such a difficult time for me relationally and I found so much support in you. I always felt that you had my best interests in mind and that you cared for me. I really needed some semblance of a parental figure at that time in my life. For all these things, I am truly grateful.
As I read these journals something new jumped out at me. It became apparent that I have been shaped and encouraged spiritually by your example. You were the first person that I had met, in a long time, that did not create a bifurcation between your faith and the rest of your life. Your faith permeated your teaching, your relationships, the way you viewed politics and the way you interpreted literature. Strangely enough I had never experienced faith that way. Although it would be years after our interactions that I would return to my own faith, I feel your example left a memorable picture to me of a man of faith. Thank you so much.
I think I have written you thank you notes in the past or perhaps I have written them, never sent. If I have I hope I am not redundant. I just want you to know what a joy your presence has been to my life. I think of you and your love for your wife often, especially now as I prepare for my own marriage. Thank you, Don. I always treasure your words of wisdom and friendship.
Dr Weinstock called me when he read the letter. He told me that after reading my letter, he could have stopped teaching and would have been content.
We had spent many office hours during my college years talking about faith and relationships. He’d walk me out to my car after our class was dismissed at 10pm, wiping my windshield with newspapers from his briefcase. We spend hours researching or talking in the library, alone or with his beloved wife, Helene, where he’d yell out each time the alarm at the university library would go off, “THEY ARE TRYING TO STEAL BOOKS! STOP THEM AT ONCE! THEY ARE TRYING TO LEARN!” It never got old.
When I became a Mc Nair Scholar, he was my faculty mentor. Our research project was Mad Women of the Victorian Period and when I had my own mental breakdown, he was who I called and who got me help.
He seemed to be the only person who wasn’t surprised when my now husband and I started dating.
He came to my wedding in 2003 at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, in Los Angeles. After the ceremony, he caught my arm before pictures and whispered in my ear “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry the other one?” referring to my college boyfriend. Weinstock was the only one who figured this this was the true match long ago.
In the last decade, we engaged an email here and there. When he heard of the suicide of my dear friend, Linda Martinez and then the death of my father, he called to share his condolences. Since the birth of my oldest son, my emails had gone unanswered. I assumed they meant his health was declining. I didn’t call. I didn’t want it to be awkward. I didn’t know if I could bear it. For a person who is usually extremely intentional about each interaction, I dropped the ball. I learned late in the year that he passed away last January. My heart goes out to his wife, Helene who will no longer have someone to play footsie with under the table as they write and study together.
May his memory be a blessing. I know it is to me. I am glad I sent him this letter.