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Letter to Dr. Goodman

Thomas Whitley

Dr. Goodman,

This is not easy, you know? Going on without you. In the countless e-mail conversations between me, you and Sam you always complained about Sam and I being able to shoot back one-liners while you were writing novelettes. Today, I fear, I am the one who cannot be succinct. For, you have touched me in too many ways. It is tough, though, to remember. I think you knew that this was particularly difficult for me, but you taught me the importance of it. You taught me that memory is sacred; that remembering is a sacred act. For the past 48 hours now I have been actively engaged in remembering. Partly because I will always remember; mostly because I can never forget.

To be sure, I have memories of our time together. I have more of those than I can recall. I remember the time we spent together in October traveling from Boiling Springs to D.C. to Charleston and to Savannah, you and I trading time behind the wheel. I remember worshiping with you in the National Cathedral. I remember calling you at your home early on in our friendship about an issue that had arisen at school and how caring and supporting you were of whatever my decision would have been. I remember going to the Conor Oberst concert in Asheville, your bush league attempt to mosh with me and Sam and not getting back to Boiling Springs until 2am. The conversation we had on the way back is one I hope I never forget. I remember you telling a few of us that your middle name wasn’t really pronounced Eugene, but was actually pronounced Ew-jean.

Your readings before class were always thoughtful. One of my favorites was before a hermeneutics class one night when you quoted lyrics from The Shins:

“And if the old guard still offend,
They’ve got nothing left on which you depend.
So enlist every ounce of your bright blood, and off with their heads!
Jump from the hook! You’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise!”

Those lyrics are so you. You pushed me to think for myself more than ever.

So, to be sure, I have memories of our time together, but I also have more. I have your legacy that so many others around me recognize as well.

It is your legacy that I hope most to carry on. Your passion for Jewish-Christian dialogue was not lost on me. It has been my passion for some while now, but is even more so now. You told us one day that our theology has got to be in response to reality. Since that day I have taken my theology more seriously. I have looked, as you pushed me to, for places where God is working among groups that we typically see as “others,” such as Jews and homosexuals. Your legacy will not die with me, Dr. Goodman. I will teach and preach what you taught and preached: equality, love, healing and reconciliation. I will remember the Holocaust, especially the shoes. I will carry your banner high and I will sing Leonard Cohen, Led Zeppelin, Prince and Abba songs loud.

The heart of it really, though, Danny, is that you inspire me. I saw myself in you and I have never been as honored as when you said your saw similarities between us. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a hero, but that’s what you are. I am a better person for having known you. I am a better person because you are my friend.

Peace and Blessings,

Thomas