On Saturday I learned that David Griggs-Janower, the professor with whom I most associate my college years—indeed, the professor most responsible for my remaining somewhat engaged and motivated at school, at least enough to graduate—is, by a sudden, cruel and horrific concatenation of medical events, gravely ill and on life support.
He is only sixty.
I found this out by chance. I’m not in touch with anyone from my college days, not really. And I don’t log on to Facebook every day, and I don’t really interact with it because I don’t have much to share. But yesterday I did, and happened to notice one close friend from college and one former college acquaintance had shared a photo of a candle. The close friend is Jessica, who—along with Dr. Janower (as I knew him then, prior to his marriage)—are pretty much the only reasons I graduated.
Curious, I clicked on the person who’d originally shared this candle image, and I saw a couple of others who’d done the same thing. All of them had one thing in common: Albany Pro Musica, a choral group founded by Dr. Griggs-Janower. Another thing they had in common: no one was saying a bloody thing along with the candle—just the photo. In retrospect I realize this was probably to preserve the family’s privacy and perhaps also because words may have just felt wrong, somehow. But it made it damn frustrating for someone on the periphery to know what was going on.
So I immediately messaged Jessica and tentatively asked her about the candle photo, whether someone involved with APM was ill. Yeah: “someone.” I think that’s how I put it. Even in a message, my mind didn’t want to take the inevitable journey, didn’t want to make the obvious connection. Not yet. But when Jessica didn’t answer me directly, but instead asked for my phone number and said she’d call me, I knew. She wouldn’t need to speak to me in person about anyone else related to this group. I was never in APM and had no real connection to it except Jessica and, of course, its founder/conductor.
I kept my phone by my side as I paced around my apartment waiting for Jessica’s call. Then it came, and after she apologized for not being in touch for a while—that’s Jessica’s way, apologizing, even though I’m just as guilty for not staying in touch if not more so—she broke down and told me about David. Aka DJ, or Dr. Janower, as I still think of him, though I’m now older than he was when he first taught me nearly thirty years ago.
Time basically stopped when Jessica gave me the news. Not just in the way that it stops whenever you’re given bad news, where your body freezes and your mind shuts out everything but the person’s voice telling you these awful things. But the whole current status of my life winked out. I wasn’t 46 anymore. I was 18. Or 19, or 20 or 21 or 22… Any of the years where DJ was part of my life, and his guidance and kindness made me feel like a human being instead of a void of worthlessness. All I could think was:
I wish I’d told him.