The Colgate Scene
May 2001
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The seasons of mercy

by Nancy De Vries
University Chaplain
  When his friend William Butler Yeats died, the English poet W. H. Auden wrote,
He disappeared in the dead of winter . . .
All the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

     The days that Franklin Day '01 and Volker Tuettenberg '03 died evoked those lines. They played as relentlessly as this endless winter: six months of dull sun in gray, snow-leaden skies. March 6 and 7 were only one short, infinitely painful day apart. Freezing rain and driving snow rushed at our hearts on March 6, when we lost Franklin, then again on March 7, a mere 24 hours later, when Volker left us so suddenly. Two beloved sons of Colgate were gone: fair Chenango twilight falls, but Colgate's deep unities of friendship and faith, of shared tragedy and deep human concern knit us together in the rich, beautiful, varied tapestry of community that is ours.

     From his diagnosis in 1997, Franklin willed himself, with quiet but stunning courage, to triumph over leukemia. As his illness progressed this winter, hundreds of Colgate entries appeared on Franklin's website: from University Church, Sigma Chi, alumni, his professors, from Dr. Merrill Miller, President Charles Karelis, even friends and family members of us all. Matt Renner '01 poured his heart and substantial literary gifts into poetry and prose on the website. Daily prayers for Franklin drew full crowds to Judd Chapel, in laughter, tears, devotions and always, palpably, radical hope. After Franklin slipped away from us, Matt Miley '00 and numerous other alumni joined Sigma Chi brothers and Franklin's family and community in Falls Church, VA; then later, we gathered again in Memorial Chapel, as the cold and snow pressed on into early spring.

     How like Volker it was to study late into the evening, then be overtaken with that ebullient playfulness that was wonderfully his, and sled down the hill outside his room in Harlem Renaissance Center. Climbing back to the top of the hill, a heart attack stole him from us in a single swift instant. In the dead of that night, Dr. Miller, Dean Arlene Hunter, counselors Mark Thompson and Susan Nolen, Father John Donovan and I met with students from the HRC, Campus Christian Fellowship, the Newman Community and the basketball team at Community Memorial Hospital. Kelli Wong '03, Maurice Robertson '03, Nadine Joseph '03, Desmond Alexander '03 and others gathered around Volker on that winter night of the soul. We joined hands and thanked God for Volker's wonderful life among us. We also asked God to draw near and comfort our hearts, to put a stop to this season of unimaginable sadness. Volker's parents arrived, so very soon. They took their beloved son home to Germany and final rest.

     As we gathered with them in the Chapel yet again, sunlight filtered through those clear early American panes, and I listened to German intern Cornelia Wickerath's lovely soprano voice recite Psalm 23 in her own and Volker's native German. I will never forget Kelli Wong's love poured out for Volker, her sweetheart since Volker's days as a foreign exchange student in Kelli's high school in Maine.

     Franklin and Volker wrote themselves into Colgate history in their days on these lovely hills; they wrote themselves into our hearts. Both were men of courage and vision; both were men of deep faith. Colgate men and women, faculty, administrators, staff, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant chaplains, our student congregations, Muslims, blacks, whites, Asians, Native Americans, all of us came together in this season of grief. We felt ourselves woven together afresh in that magnificent caring community that bears us up in times such as these, reminding us that life is good, that a caring hand is at the helm.

     English poet John Donne wrote, "God can bring thy summer out of winter, though thou have no spring. All occasions invite God's mercies, and all times are God's seasons." Franklin and Volker are gone, but their spirit is fresh and will live among us. They await us on another shore in mystery beyond our understanding.

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