Thursday, July 12, 2007

Arma Virumque Cano

"Arma virumque cano" - "I sing of arms and the man," the first line of Virgil's The Aeneid.

This post is dedicated to my Latin teacher, Dr. Lana Schwebel, A"H.

Dear Dr. Schwebel,

How's tricks?

Two days ago, I met one of my friends in Penn Station - we had been on the same train but hadn't actually seen each other until we got to the city. You know how it is. Well, I of course said hello and we walked part way to where we had to go (we had to split up at sixth ave., so a short walk, but hey, a walk is a walk). Sometime during that walk, my friend said to me, "Oh, you're an English major, aren't you?"

"Yes," I replied, thinking she had perhaps heard about some literary contest or something - or maybe even that a literary journal was finally being started at Stern! Wouldn't that be just great?

"I got an email yesterday that a professor died...Sch...Schwebel?"



"Dr. Schwebel?"

"Yes. Did...did you have her?"

I was in a daze by that point.

"Yes," I said, feeling very distant from the conversation. Almost like I had a head cold. My brain was all fuzzy. "Yes, she...she's my Latin teacher. But're sure? I never got anything."

"Yes, I got it in an SSTUD. It said it was a tragic death. How old was she?"

Faintly, "she was really young."

"Oh, yeah, tragic death, she must have had some kind of accident."


I think we joked about SSTUDs after that to lighten the mood. But I was shaking all over. I literally ran to my internship and, once there, hurriedly checked my email. Nothing. No SSTUD. I quickly emailed Chana and she said she never got an email either. I checked the YU website. Nothing.

That whole day, I checked my email about every five minutes. And I'm hardly exaggerating. I think, somewhere, in the way back recesses of my mind, I knew it was true. My friend wouldn't make it up. But yet there was no email. No proof. No one had told me for real. I even looked you up on google and found nothing to suggest anything horrible had happened. So I convinced myself it was a mistake. Some kind of horrible, terrible, sick mistake. But a mistake nonetheless.

The next day, I checked my email pretty frequently but not as frequently as the day before. I tried to imagine what I'd be feeling had I not met my friend in Penn Station. I'd never had heard about any of this. I'd have gone on thinking you were still...still there. We were going to continue reading Latin together in the fall. And I wanted to tell you all about working at a newspaper and about the giant printing press they have. I wanted to thank you again for your letter of recommendation - actually, an email is waiting for you saying just that. Only you'll never read it now. Or will you? Can you know what your emails say from in Shamayim? I wonder how much you can be aware of what's going on down here. Do you know what happens at the end of Harry Potter already? It's weird, out of all the things I could be thinking, my mind keeps going back to--"and she'll never know what happens at the end of Harry Potter. She was so close. So close."

Back to yesterday, I had pretty much convinced myself everything was one, big, huge mistake and that was the end of it.

But I knew it wasn't. I did. Like I said, somewhere in me, I knew it was true what my friend had said. How do I know I knew that? Because I kept checking my email, waiting to hear something. I knew I would.

This morning, I got an email with the subject, "Dr. Schwebel." I just stared at it in my inbox for a few moments, knowing what it would say and dreading it greatly. I felt a terrible, sinking feeling in my stomach. I was going dizzy. I moved the mouse, clicked, and opened the email.

And there it was.

You were gone.

Another one of your students was collecting anything any of us wanted to write about you to put together in a book and present to your parents.

I was in shock. In terrible, terrible shock. I just stared at the email before leaving my room, standing on the stairs, and crying. I burst into tears - just like that. I didn't think I would. I hate crying. I hold myself back from it all the time. I think I'm embarrassed by it. I don't like to come off as overly emotional. But no one was home. I was free to be upset, to cry, to repeat, "No, no, no" over and over.

It just didn't make any sense to me. And suddenly, I was overcome with this intense desire to know exactly what happened. I had to know. I emailed the girl who sent me her email and she forwarded to me the SSTUD that basically no one got. She also told me it had been a car crash. An article in The Yeshiva World filled in the rest.

Touring in Russia? In Siberia? All I could think about, reading that article, was how scared you must have been. I know I'd have been terrified. Not only is being in a terrible car crash frightening, but in Siberia? God. It gives me the shivers. I don't like to think about it. Let's move on to pleasanter things.

I want to continue studying Latin, even if we can't read together anymore. I don't know how, but I'm going to try to review everything we did and then maybe I'll buy a book that can teach me more. And a better book, because I know you really didn't like the one we used. And then, one day, I'll be able to get my own copy of Harry Potter in Latin. And read it, too. :D Of course, of course, along with Cicero, Ovid, Virgil, and all them other "dead dudes."

It will be very weird going back to school and having someone else in your office - that office you waited so long for. I remember that. =D

I'm still in a bit of denial, still in a huge daze about the whole thing. I don't really know how to handle it.

Thank you again for writing a letter of recommendation for me.

I'll try my best to keep up the dead language.

Your one and only Latin student,



Scraps said...

BDE. :(

That was a beautiful letter. Thank you for posting it.

Moshe said...

Thanks for sharing.

SJ said...


Ezzie said...

I saw this last night. :( A wonderful letter, Erachet...

Anonymous said...

hi, I hope you dont mind an old person like me writing in, but I came across your page as I was once again googling my friend Lana for the millionth time this week just to feel that she is still here with me on the planet.

Lana and I were best friends, starting off as college roommates at Barnard, almost 2 decades ago. we spoke constantly and I know she had mentioned you since she was so glad to have the chance to keep the Latin thing going at Stern.

your letter was great. it makes me feel good to know she really had an impact on her students, not that I doubted that for a second.

part of me still denies that I stood up and eulogized my best friend at this early point in our lives. saying that life is unfair is an understatement.

I also hope you dont mind that I send this link to her family. this will mean a lot to them at this time.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help if there are any faculty or student groups that want to do something in her honor. Or if you or your friends want another way to feel some sense of closure, I would be glad to hear from you.

Dr. Marianne Gorlyn

Princess said...

This was a beautiful letter, thank you for sharing it.

samantha said...

Lana was my Latin professor at Stern as well. We went through Floyd & Rita together. She made Latin - and literature, since I also crashed some of her courses - snarky, to use one of her phrases. She gave me guidance at a crucial academic phases of my life - when I was considering whether to go to graduate school, explaining that at the graduate level, study simply got more specific. She was delighted when I told her I got into NYU. I was looking forward to finding her this summer to tell her that I'm almost done with my masters. My sister, currently a Stern student, just told me today that she died. Before her time. I really have a hard time thinking of her in the past tense. She was dedicated to her work (e.g. one day she came into class so sick that we begged her to go home, but she persisted in going through Dante, perhaps sensing the connection to her current physical state), dedicated to her students (she made herself available to us), dedicated to Stern College for Women (a surprise, considering how many of us had an inferiority complex in attending there at the time, though, fortunately, the school is much stronger academically now), and dedicated to her work (pledges, who can forget about them?). May her memory be a blessing. Arma famaque cano - I sing of arms and the woman.

Anonymous said...

What's a SSTUD?

the apple said...

Erachet, this was beautiful. It really made me cry. It's a wonderful tribute to Dr. Schwebel, whom I wanted to take so much but never got the chance.

Thank you.

Rebecca said...

Wow. I'm not an English major, but the suddeness of this tragedy still touches me to some extent. Thank you for verbalizing the pain that so many of you must feel. Thank you for bringing comfort to those who need it.

Eugippius of Lucullanum said...

Hi, thanks for this and for the pointer to the blue blog -- I hadn't seen. I was one of Lana's own teachers and it's fun to see her through student eyes.

One of the blue blog posts has it exactly right: in the midst of tragedy, with tears in my eyes, I can't think of her without smiling. That's who she was.

Jim O'Donnell
Georgetown University

Susan said...

Lana was my very good friend. I just got a postcard from her on Friday. It was mailed on July 5, the day of that awful accident. I miss her something fierce. I google her name every couple days.

You write a beautiful letter, here. And I do know that Lana (the Dr. Schwebel thing is hard for me to imagine--at Yale, the faculty are on first name basis.) would have appreciated hearing about the big printing press. She really liked that kind of stuff. Lana found such open-mouthed joy in the littlest things. I loved that about her.