(written Saturday, 2 December 2006)
Nancy died day before yesterday. I sat numbed in front of the computer screen for a quarter of an hour, thinking again and again, "I never made the cross-stitch I'd planned for her."
How arrogant and foolish to put off kindnesses, thinking there will be time. We have no idea how much time there will be, and I never told her how much a part of me she is.
Nancy Walker was my colleague, director of the writing program and writing teacher, at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State). It was my first full-time position out of graduate school, half-time teaching and half-time directing the new writing center. She was kind to this nervous 30-something who'd never intended to work outside the home; she made me feel not only welcome but competent, belonging in this alien place.
A short, petite woman, she dressed "professionally feminine" -- well-tailored dresses and heels that raised her above the lectern (if she ever used one). I sat in on one of her graduate-level writing classes; a dynamo with cropped greying hair and reading glasses perched on her nose, her heels tapping constantly about the room, she challenged, delighted, and encouraged, drawing from us our best. She didn't have to look at my work, as I wasn't a student, but she did -- many written comments and then the concentrated attention to help me make a piece publishable, my first.
It was during those four years at SMSU that I finally accepted the identity of "writer" that had been a reality since I learned to scratch my name on kindergarten lined paper. And it was Nancy who helped me see that the reflective essay is my genre. That in itself might have been a career-killer, we both knew, but she never discouraged me from following the gift given.
I left SMS for many reasons, one among them being my absolute inability to justify sacrificing my time, energy, and identity for academic writing. One of the greatest gains from those years was the courage to embrace a gift -- and in that courage Nancy will remain with me, leaving the world not quite as empty as it felt when I first read the message of her death.
May it please God that she rest in peace.