Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Monsieur Hamlin And Moi

Frank Hamlin
was my old French prof
the professor whom
I admired the most

We would often
walk together
side by side
either on the way to class
or afterwards
on the way
back home

He was my mentor
my teacher
my guiding light
my Rock of Gibraltar
at a time
when it seemed and felt
as if the whole world
was coming undone

He walked with a limp
either from birth or
because of advancing old age
though he never
seemed old to me
Rather, he seemed to be timeless
like father time himself
a permanent fixture of
the college environment
as indigenous as the ivy
on the dolomite dormitory walls

And as we walked
we would talk

We spoke about poetry
(French of course)
and about philosophy and
about life in general
with a capital L

He was the father of five girls
who all loved and adored him
His wife was
an expat from Algeria
known in those days as a
Pied Noir
a pejorative term
for expats from
French Algeria
who were forced to
leave the country
of their birth
after Algeria
was granted independence
after a long
bloody and drawn out
civil war
that nearly tore
both countries apart

They first met in Paris
when Frank was
attending post grad studies
at the Sorbonne
and they were soon married

Frank had a missionary’s zeal
when it came to
the welfare of his students
He believed that the world
well educated
men and women
if freedom and
were to survive and

He was determined
that I not waste
the opportunity
that I had been granted
to receive a top flight
Hamilton College education

I was expected to be a
Hamilton gentleman
in every sense of the word
clean in mind
body and

Though I was born a Jew
(and proud of it!)
Frank never tired
of discussing the
virtues of
(the New England Protestant
brand of course!)
as we discussed
the various French writers
who espoused
the Christian
(mostly Catholic)
world view:
Paul Claudel
George Bernanos
Francois Mauriac
Julien Green
Blaise Pascal
Andre Malraux

Then one day
(as I neared graduation
and hence
the inevitable parting
of ways)
at the end of one of these
particularly memorable
marathon walking lectures
Frank turned to me and said:

And always remember Jacques
(my name in French)
Life is short
and the last act
is always 

He continued:
Base your life
on Religion
he said
 quel religion!”

And as we
parted company
for what may
well have been
the very last time
I waved to him
as he waved back
from his front porch
before wiping his feet
on the well worn
welcome mat
before entering his home
and accepting
the warm embrace
of his wife of forty years

And in the distance
came the peeling
of church bells
calling the faithful
to evening prayers
while the scent
of burning
autumn leaves
hung heavily
in the still
night air

Philadelphia, Pa. 2012

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