Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gordon Lell, R.I.P.

Another dear professor of mine has died: Gordon Lell taught Shakespeare with an earnestness, wit, sincerity, and friendliness that continue to inspire me to pick the Bard's plays up for evening reading. (I worked like a dog for his class in the English Department at Concordia College, Moorhead -- both because I'm not a natural Shakespearean and because I wanted to do well for him.) Dr. Lell came to Concordia while I was there and only retired late last year when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor (which turned out to be incredibly fast, virulent, and deadly). There are two generations (at least) of his students who will mourn him, and they will be joined by many alumni who joined him for lunch and discussion around a Guthrie production of a Shakespeare play.

Professor Lell was one of those inspired and inspiring teachers whom one carries with himself long after commencement has sealed the end of his halcyon days of undergraduate life. His model of scholarly engagement coupled with a complete lack of hostility toward the hardheads in his classes rates him a place in the heavenly seminar room. (I've told you, I think, that my vision of the New Jerusalem is that it is a city with many rooms and spaces -- some of which are devoted to the singing of J.S. Bach, some to the reliving of great NASCAR events, and some to the discussion of things literary and theological. Those discussions will feature unself-conscious and non-judgmental face-to-face time with Barth, Luther, and now Lell, inter alia. And what makes it heaven is that even such dunderheads as I will be able to understand and participate!)

May his memory be eternal.

Coincidentally, I have just read and seen a televised production of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit. It came highly recommended in N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope, which I'm reading for an online discussion group. It is a powerful work, and I recommend it.

The play concerns a very respected scholar of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Vivian Bearing, who finds herself diagnosed with stage-four ovarian cancer -- "there is no stage 5," she says. And it follows her through her treatment in a respected research hospital. (Not too surprising that only staff person who really comes off as meritorious is Vivian's nurse, Susie.) It is at turns humorous, insightful, educational, and painful. That the play involves some reading and interpretation of "Death, be not proud," which is my regular Easter posting, made it even better.

It was a sad irony in my life that the day that Professor Lell died, I was watching this play. It has given my study of Wright's book greater urgency. (On that, more later, perhaps.)

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