Atoning in Ohio “Dad, will you please come see me for Yom Kippur?”
In spite of almost six hours to be spent driving to her university on curvy mountain highways, often at 70 miles per hour, saying no to my daughter was impossible. Not just because she asked so sweetly, but also because, despite my dislike of being excessively apologetic to God, I have enjoyed every service I have attended at Ohio University’s Hillel. I actually wanted to go.
“It’s my senior year, Dad,” my daughter had reminded me. “This one’s special.”
Although being with her is always special, this visit promised to be nostalgic. Each time prior, I’d met my daughter’s friends, often ones who were about to graduate. Not seeing them the next time, after their graduation, left me feeling as if conversations I had started had ended too abruptly. However, her new friends distracted me with discussions about theses they were researching, music they were studying, causes they were supporting.
In June, all of that would end. Yom Kippur seemed a good time to begin saying goodbye to Ohio University.
“Dad, let’s go to Donkey.”
“Love too,” I said, since we’d planned nothing else after services.
Everyone at the Donkey coffee shop appeared to be well under thirty. Except me. My daughter found the communal Scrabble game, then set the board on a table. “Let’s play,” she said.
For the first time in years, she’d asked me to engage me in my favorite game. At her favorite place. No one seemed to mind that I was the only Dad there. Indeed, I was joyous. Just being with my daughter makes me feel that way; I didn’t really care about the Scrabble game even as I spelled MUSTARD, a seven letter word worth, with bonuses, 134 points. That it had come my way was more an indication of how good it felt to be there than the serendipity of picking the right tiles.
My daughter greeted one of her friends, a personable, bearded young man in a tweed sport coat and tie. “Jerry, meet my Dad.”
Jerry, at six feet two, appeared sturdy as an offensive end. But I didn’t ask whether he played football. “He graduated last year from HTC. We had classes together.”
HTC, Honors Tutorial College, a haven for some of the best and brightest at Ohio University. My daughter loved it there. After five minutes of stimulating conversation with Jerry, I was reminded why. Every student there makes an often creative statement, leaves a marker of their stay there, usually in the form of a mandatory thesis, the kind usually required for a graduate degree. Students at HTC are that good.
Jerry studied Dante’s masterpiece, in Italian, then produced a convincing revelation about meanings previously hidden in its text. We talked about that and a dozen more things when we left Donkey for a stroll around downtown Athens.
Jerry talked about his job with the city. He serves as a stellar liaison between Athens and its university. When we talked about O.U.’s rank as one of the nation’s top party schools, he was quick to correct that impression. “At Palmer Fest, I examined the records of arrested revelers. Out of 35, all but three were out of towners who don’t attend our university.”
Knowing that he was on top of things made me feel even better about O.U. Knowing that I wouldn’t see Jerry and many others like him after June’s graduation made me glad that I had come, yet sad at having to leave behind so many good people.
Of course, I know that, wherever my daughter goes next, I may have a chance to share holidays with her there, too. Who knows? Next year I may have to meet her in Israel for Yom Kippur. I tried to stay focused on that possibility as I waved goodbye to my daughter as I drove away.
On both sides of highway 32, a dozen miles outside of town, I admired fall colored hills I knew I was driving by after spending my final autumn there.