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Sorry for the lack of updates, folks. As Jaime updated, we’re going through some legal and financial troubles right now, and the stress and busy struggle has left little time for blogging, even though we now have high speed wireless internet at our place.

That, and something happened last night which made me even more melancholy and depressed than our financial situation: The world lost someone who acted as an academic mentor, guide, and inspiration to me, Dr. Philip West.

I saw this article on a fellow former UM student’s Facebook page, and he was mourning the loss of Dr. West for the same reasons I am now: He was saddened to lose someone who had blown us all away with his passion for teaching, his kindness, his dedication to the intellectual development of his students, and his deep love for his work.

I first met Dr. West when I was a sophomore at UM, at a forum on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he was serving as a panellist. I got to meet him afterwards, introduced to him by my advisor (another great mentor) He remarked, “Oh yes, I saw your eyes burning with questions and passion in the back row!” I had such a good time talking with him, like I was conversing with a friendly uncle rather than a professor whom I’d never previously spoken with.

The next semester, I enrolled in his class, an intro class to Asian Cultures, Civilization and History. He was always smiling, always enthusiastic, and always willing to answer a student’s questions or foster a lively debate. Probably my favourite memory of him is when he asked us our opinion on the use of nuclear weapons during WWII, and, after giving my opinion* he looked at me and said “You’re good. You’re very, very good. Be careful with that, will you?” He could bring out anybody’s inner scholar; there were people in that classroom with me whose only knowledge of China came from watching Disney’s Mulan who walked out at the end discussing Confucian ideals versus Legalist ones and the impacts of colonialism upon Vietnam after the American-Vietnam War.

Last night while in bed I cried and whispered farewell poems I learned from my Zen Buddhism course, remembering all he taught me and all that I gained from his warm, inviting presence in my life, thinking about all the other students who were mourning his death alongside me, in other places, in Montana, Japan, China, Korea.   I learned that he had been teaching his classes with passion and enthusiasm even as he underwent treatment for cancer, and thinking about him teaching until he physically couldn’t anymore, and cried more at the fact that he’d no longer be able to do what he loved most.

I feel a strange sadness that’s quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before at the news of his death. The only other person in my life who really shaped my intellectual development as much was my father, when I was 13. Having someone I considered an academic mentor die is a first for me, and I feel a strange new type of determination rising in me.I want to continue his legacy, and make the very best use of the knowledge he passed onto me.

When he playfully chastised me that day in class, the message I got from it was clear, that knowledge is a tool that should be used to advance and to improve upon. Before I came to college, had classes with Dr. West, and mellowed out a bit, I’d considered my knowledge and cleverness to be weapons in my personal arsenal. I don’t want to use my knowledge to destroy, or to bring down others, when the alternative is to uplift them and offer them new and different ways of seeing and thinking.

I’m going to treasure my professors a great deal more now, after contemplating just how much care and dedication they are putting into students like me. We will live on after they’ve gone, and so will the lessons they imparted on us.

Rest in Peace, Dr. West. I’ll miss you, but I’ll never forget you.

The truth embodied in the
Buddhas
Of the future, present,
past;
The teaching we received
from the
Fathers of our faith
Can be found at the tip of
my stick.

– Kyonen Goku

* Try and guess which position I took, I dare you!

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