His name was *David Beard. He taught Existentialism at Lehigh University. Professor Beard wore kilts and smoked cigarettes during his lunch breaks. He arrived late to class and when he did, the entire lecture hall stunk from his smoke. Of the countless lessons that he imparted on me in the Spring of 2011, two, in particular, stuck.
1. Life is absurd.
2. It is completely acceptable for a man to lecture while wearing a kilt.
Following Professor Beard's final exam, Existentialism was over only in the sense that I no longer received credits for studying it. Memories of Professor Beard in stockings and black boots rambling about life and death haunted me for years.
In an unexpected way though, Existentialism set me free. It reminded me that my purpose on earth was undefined and more importantly, that I could choose how to live. It reassured me that since I originated from nothing and ultimately would return to nothing, I had nothing to lose.
When I started graduate school in 2013, I fell in love with a Ph.D. student. Her name was *Sara Hoffman. She studied engineering too.
On our first date, I remember fearing that Sara could hear my heart beat. When she glanced at the wine list, I inhaled deeply to calm my nerves. I remember exhaling and appreciating the blood and breath flowing through me, providing me with the strength that I needed to be present.
Sara's eyes were kind. They shined a bright green and reflected the bar behind me. If I looked closely, I could see myself in them. However, I remember gazing past my own reflection, towards something deeper. It was as though, for a second, I saw what Sara saw, as if, for a moment, I were who Sara was.
When we kissed later that evening, it occurred to me that this kiss could be the last I would ever enjoy. When we climbed the steps to her studio apartment, I recall thinking that this workout could be the last I would ever endure. And when Sara poured me a pint of Bohemian style beer, I remarked that each sip could be the last I would savor before an eternity of nothingness. But it wasn't. This wasn't my final act.
All the same, approaching the evening as if it were my last liberated me from my own transience. I came prepared, aware that I could take nothing with me to the grave. And because I was attached to nothing, I felt nothing, not even time, slipping away.
Looking back, it wasn't Professor Beard who made me fall in love. That was Sara's doing. But Professor Beard taught me how to fall in love. He taught me that life was fleeting, and that to cherish it, we had to live as if we were already dead. I wonder if that's why he dressed the way that he did. In an absurd world in which Professor Beard could die at any time, why wouldn't the man wear a kilt?
*Names have been changed