This post talks about losing Dr. David Lavery: a person close to me and many others. It probably won’t be my last post on this, as I make my way through the spider web of grief. I don’t know how you say goodbye to a giant, to someone that touched your life and helped you become the person you are today. I just want to share my thoughts and feelings and a little bit of what he meant to me.
Another Weeping Woman : Wallace Stevens
Pour the unhappiness out
From your too bitter heart,
Which grieving will not sweeten.
Poison grows in this dark.
It is in the water of tears
Its black blooms rise.
The magnificent cause of being,
The imagination, the one reality
In this imagined world
With him for whom no phantasy moves,
And you are pierced by a death.
I was having a regular Monday morning. It was harried, I was running late, it was the second week of school, we were still adjusting to our schedules. I had just pulled into the library parking lot, where I normally camp out in the hours before an administrative meeting and then a day full of classes for some last minute prep and planning. I checked my phone and had an email from a friend that asked for me to call them right away– an odd request since I thought they had my number. I picked up the phone and dialed, expected it to be something inconsequential.
“David’s in the hospital. Things don’t look good,” the voice said from the other end of the line said, and the world around me went wobbly.
I remember the smile on my face falling, I remember saying, what? There was a shock as I listened to the details of what was going on, the details that my mind processed but my emotions were unable. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. I listened and made words come out of my mouth, the kind of words that must have seemed appropriate. When I got off the phone I prayed, my head against the steering wheel, and then I cried, great galloping, sobbing tears that wracked my body. People walked by and looked into my car with the odd kind of curiosity that you pay a girl that is just sobbing in her car on a Monday morning.
If you know me, then you know I’m an optimist. If you don’t know me, then hi, I’m an optimist. I like to think on the bright side. At the same time, I’m a planner, I’m a doer. I need to be planning and doing at all times, it makes me feel productive, it makes me feel good. I started thinking about how we’d just met, days before. About how we had plans to see each other again in just a few days. That he’d just celebrated his birthday– 67. On that morning, I wanted to believe everything was going to be okay. I needed to believe it.
I’m sad to say that the optimism failed me, for my friend, my mentor, and a man that was closer to a father than any I ever had died the next day, on a sunny and clear Tuesday morning.
I wrote something that wasn’t published (I’m not sure I responded in time) in our campus newspaper asking me what made “Dr. Lavery so special” — (a fairly inadequate question)– and this was my response:
Dr. Lavery was a light in this world,and so much of what he did for this campus and community was special that it will be hard to put into words that can adequately express the magnitude of his good work and impact. The world lost a giant on Tuesday: those that knew him and were lucky enough to learn from him suffer acutely from their loss, and those that had not yet had a chance to know him will forever be at a deficit. He was brilliant, kind, funny, and razor-sharp with his wit. His knowledge spanned from Owen Barfield to Fellini to Melville, Borges to Calvino to Poe– and there was no better television scholar on the planet. He was a true pioneer in the legitimation in television studies as a field, undergoing detailed and thoughtful literary scholarship into such series as The X-Files, Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and many more. Perhaps most notably, he was known as the “father” of Buffy studies; he was an incredible scholar on not only Buffy the Vampire Slayer but also Joss Whedon.Dr. Lavery published over 20 books in his lifetime and helped countless students with their first publications. He was a champion for their success and betterment, encouraging them to grow and learn, and push themselves to success. His work as a teacher, a scholar, and mentor will never be forgotten.
I met Dr. Lavery in the summer of 2004 when I still wasn’t totally sure of what I wanted to do with my (academic) life. Here was this enigmatic, vibrant, enthusiastic scholar talking to a group of May-mester undergrads about the exciting things they could study in the English Graduate program—things like popular culture! Well, I was instantly hooked. We spent some time chatting after that class and he seemed so genuinely interested in what I had to say and encouraged me to apply to the program before he really even knew me at all. He also dropped that he was teaching a science fiction class that fall, should I be interested, and I promptly signed up for it that same afternoon. That pretty much is the start of what I’ve often joked was my “Education” in Laverystudies– as well as a beautiful friendship, mentorship, and collaboration with a man that truly changed my life.
Now, I can tell you in hearing or reading the stories we have shared over the past few days that so many of our lives have been shaped by David Lavery. By his unique, authentic, and infections glee for a variety of subject matters—from Buffy to Barfield….I know we have been influenced by his kindness, by his genuine desire to see every one of us strive and reach for our individual greatness. I was lucky enough to take 7 classes with him over the years, a whole lot of thesis hours, work together on several books and research projects, on social occasions from one of his daughter’s weddings to a most glorious Mad Men party this past may, on conferences and more. And we had plans: for Doctor Who in London, for a Game of Thrones conference. I’d even threatened just a few weeks ago that I couldn’t let him retire until he’d hooded me.
Dr. Lavery taught me everything I needed to know about being a good teacher: love your subject matter, be kind to your colleagues, be supportive, encouraging, and compassionate with your students. He always took the time—beginning on that almost summer day in 2004—to make me feel as though my ideas mattered. He always believed in me, he always cheered me on, even when I took a break from academia, he still supported me and my pursuits. He listened when I needed it, and he gave me advice when I needed it, too.
Dr. Lavery was the smartest, kindest, greatest man I ever knew, I loved him like the father I never had, and the gifts he gave me—not just of being a great scholar and teacher, but of being a great friend, great father to his girls, loving grandfather, and devoted husband were those that impacted my life forever. Even though his devotion to his scholarship and students were undeniable, all the more evident to us was the love he had for his family. Many of us bore witness when he’d recount his wedding day to his bride, the memory bringing him to tears, or the knowing look in his eye when he shared the story of the day he and Joyce knew that Rachel was going to grow up and become a lawyer. He was so incredibly proud of Sarah’s writing, and his grandchildren were the loves and delight of his life. And while I’ll always be in awe of the compendium of knowledge that was David Lavery, it was his love of family that made me love him all the more, so thank you to them for sharing him with all of us.
He taught me that my life, my ideas, mattered. He showed me that life could be a lot different than what I’d known before I met him, and I am so thankful to him for that. I am sure there’s no way that we—that any of us—could have ever had enough time. My life will be emptier without the sound of his voice in the hallways, a little less exciting not knowing of his latest adventure, or what he would have thought of Amsterdam this fall. But I’ll treasure all the moments we did have, and I’ll treasure the gifts he did leave behind, those known and yet to be discovered.
Thank you for everything, Dr. Lavery.
Note: If you have a story you may want to share, please do so to rememberingdavidlavery (at) gmail (dot) com — this will be shared with his family: his wife, his daughters, and his beautiful grandchildren.
Other lovely tributes:
Rhonda Wilcox’s epigraph in the opening to the most recent issue of Slayage: http://www.whedonstudies.tv/uploads/2/6/2/8/26288593/david_lavery_1949-2016_slayage_14.2.pdf
The Ten Percent: “Pay Attention to The Open Sky” https://biffbampop.com/2016/09/09/the-ten-percent-pay-attention-to-the-open-sky/
Ink Stained Amazon: “It’s all Connected”: http://blog.ink-stainedamazon.com/?p=2668
“C’est Le Guerre: David Lavery”: http://www.freaksugar.com/cest-la-guerre-david-lavery-1949-2016/
“It’s Cool, Buffy’s a Superhero: Remembering David Lavery”: http://www.cbr.com/its-cool-buffys-a-superhero-remembering-david-lavery/?utm_source=CBR-FB-P&utm_medium=Social-Distribution&utm_campaign=CBR-FB-P&view=lista
Mark Edwards: “The World Needs More People Like David Lavery: “http://www.annistonstar.com/sports/opinion/mark-edwards-the-world-needs-more-people-like-david-lavery/article_03bb5db8-6f06-11e6-8407-efb984710dbe.html
Thank you for reading, and please let me know if you have a link you’d like me to post here in tribute and memory.