Quite simply, I admire, love, and am inspired by individuals who love the gift God has bestowed on them and who embrace that gift wholeheartedly. LeBron James does that.
John Carroll University’s beloved and brilliant iconic English professor, Dr. James Magner, profoundly influenced, inspired, and enhanced the lives of everyone on his life’s path. Every academic environment has a teacher who stands out from the rest – the one that everyone remembers, loves, appreciates, understands, and gravitates towards. At JCU, that professor is the late, great Dr. James Magner.
I rescheduled all my afternoon appointments again and swung by Houlihan’s at Parmatown Mall to place my usual to-go order at the bar. I had done it so many times before that the bartender, Sandy, always matter-of-factly recited my order off to me as soon as she saw me approach the corner of the bar. “Chicken finger appetizers, fresh summer fruit, two side cups of honey-mustard, one side cup of honey, and a side order of sliced limes.” I smiled and said, “Yep, that’s it, thank you! I’ll be right back.” And then I headed out into the mall’s food court to pick up some egg rolls and fried rice at the corner Chinese stand. Some days while waiting for my order I’d go outside and walk up to Blockbuster Video. I’d walk the aisles looking for something worth renting for us – a difficult feat for me since I am neither a movie enthusiast nor a movie buff (except for the classics) and although I own my own copies of my two favorite movies – It’s a Wonderful Life and Harold & Maude, I had no desire to watch either of them this summer. So after a few minutes of being briefly overwhelmed from the choices before me – I’d select from the shelves what I knew for certain would be worthwhile viewing – Moby Dick, The Old Man & The Sea, and whatever sports highlights videos I could find.
You see, it was another beautiful summer’s day and I was once again bound for another awesome afternoon/evening at my Professor Magner’s place on the lake. I always looked forward to the drive to Magner’s – it gave me a chance to clear my mind from the deadlines and the demands from the day’s work. I’d open my sunroof and all my windows, crank the stereo as loud as the speakers could endure, and with my backseat filled with treats, treasures, and tokens of my love for Magner, and with the wind swirling through my hair, my soul, and my heart, I’d joyfully venture to the only place I wanted to be all spring and summer long – in the company of my long-time friend and favorite professor.
It’s Always Love at First Site
I was never quite sure what I would first encounter when I arrived at his place on the lake – and I never cared. As long as he was there to greet me with his bright eyes and his lovingkindness – nothing else mattered to me. Sometimes he’d be standing there in the doorway anxiously waiting for me. Other times I’d find him looking diligently through his address book – for some lost number of some lost friend from another lifetime, another place. Sometimes he’d be jotting down meditative thoughts on his yellow writing pad or working on his list of things to do for the day. Sometimes I’d walk in and see him reading one of his literary books. Sometimes he’d be sitting at the edge of his seat, sporting his Indians baseball cap, his gray sweat pants, his white sneakers, and his JCU sweatshirt and want to head out with me for appetizers and cocktails as soon as I arrived. Sometimes he’d be relaxing to the tunes of Erroll Garner or Paul Winter or Mozart. Sometimes he’d be organizing his briefcase. I’d enter his place with my arms filled with bags of food, and club soda, and limes, and chocolates, and a tape recorder, and plants, and gifts, and as soon as I saw him I’d drop everything on the first empty space I’d spot so I could kiss him and hug him and tell him how happy I was to be with him again – in the peaceful, love-filled, laid-back, slow-going, grounded, easy company of his complex simplicity.
Although his daughter Maureen and his youngest son David visited with him on a daily basis, and my visits these past two seasons were frequent and priceless, I really wanted to be with him 24/7. I hated to leave him alone, even for an hour. When I’d ask him, “What do you want to do tonight?” He’d always say while extending his arms as if offering me the moon, “Whatever you want to do.” And then I’d say, “Ok then, let’s go swimming in the lake.”
Every visit with Magner was precious to me. We’d talk about life, and love, and serenity, and family, and prayer. I’d ask him a million questions about his childhood and his ventures in New York and the Korean War and his children and his feelings and I’d sit patiently by his side as he brought forth his replies. Some days we’d go for walks around his property or sit on his back patio and watch the jet skiers and boaters glide across the lake. One afternoon, while we were sitting outside, he ever-so-carefully rose to his feet, started snapping his fingers and moving about and said, “Let’s boogie baby” and then proceeded to dance to the chirping of the summer birds and the lyrical music made by the lake’s waves.
Sometimes we’d nap together. On the days when I knew he was exhausted but didn’t want to sleep because he didn’t want wake up alone, I’d nap with him; then, when he awoke, he’d read to me from his brilliant and only novel, THAT NONE BE LOST. I’d sit there, next to him, holding a microphone close to him to capture and record his distinct voice as he read from his magnum opus. Sometimes we’d meditate together. When I was there in the evenings, we’d watch the sun set and the night’s baseball game.
My ride home from Magner’s was always completely different from my ride there. I rarely opened my windows. I played no music. I wept a lot. I wept because I was so grateful and so humbled to be the one student of his thousands of students throughout almost four decades of teaching that was regularly loved and affirmed by him. I wept because I was so happy that his daughter, Maureen and his youngest son, David affirmed my love and embraced my existence and welcomed me there with them and their dad. I wept because I was so happy Magner had been a part of my life on a regular basis since he first came onto my life’s path over 20 years ago. I wept during those rides home because I was so happy I always invited him to talk to my students about life and poetry when I was a high school English teacher. I wept because I was so happy that he had come to visit me many times at my place of business, was always there for me – spiritually, physically, and emotionally, and had selected me to publish both Only the Shadow of the Great Fool and That None Be Lost. I wept because I was so grateful that I was invited to his retirement party where I was asked to sit with his family at the head table. I wept because I was so happy that he called me during the wee hours of the morning when he couldn’t sleep. I wept because I felt like the luckiest friend in the whole universe who got to be the one there to wipe the honey from his beard, hold his hand, laugh with him and his children, run my fingers through his long hair, listen to his stories, hear him read to me alone, and hear him say to me, “I love you.”
I wept because I knew that from the moment Magner appeared on my life’s path, everything I was, everything I had been, and everything I was yet to become was all an integral part of life’s grand magnum (magner) opus. I wept because his wisdom, his simplicity, his joy, his intensity, his humbleness, his sadness, his celebration of life, his communion with the universe, his ultimate concerns, and the very essence of his entire being stirred my soul. I wept because his was the most beautiful soul I had ever seen and I felt so blessed and so graced and so humbled to be a part of his life. I wept because the man who had awakened my soul from its slumber when I was just a teenager was dying. And there was nothing I could do except give him my love, my attention, and my time.
The Death of Magner
As every individual soul who was fortunate enough to know Magner will affirm, he had that unconditional love for and immediate acceptance of everyone just exactly as they were – as they stumbled, as they stood, as they soared. He was one of those rare birds in this life who was both brilliant and insightful, yet compassionate and humble – an uncommon and wondrous concoction of love and intellect that enabled him to quite easily identify and affirm the unique essence of each and every person – without regard to race, religion, profession, status, or education. Unconditional love and acceptance for all. And that is really something. It is everything.
On August 10th, 2000 I watched the sun swim slowly into the lake from Magner’s backyard. Because I could not bare to see the face of death again as I had with my dad two years previous, I kissed Professor Magner good-night, told him that I loved him and that I would see him again, and then left him alone in the love-filled company of his children. I got into my car, opened all my windows, and drove into the waning sunset.
On the morning of August 11th 2000, the world was forever profoundly changed; Professor Magner died.
Limited copies of Dr. Magner’s book of vertical jottings, ONLY THE SHADOW OF THE FOOL, are available. Cover artwork for this book is by Derek Hess. The book will not be reprinted and there are only a few remaining copies still available from the publisher. To purchase one of the handful of remaining copies, you can simply click on the paypal button provided here.
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