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10 Life Lessons From OLLU Professor David Sanor

David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio
David and Nancy Sanor

Last summer, Texas Matters brought you the story of David Sanor, a professor of English and linguistics at Our Lady of the Lake University who was battling an aggressive form of ALS. David had taken on the task of building a voice bank. He recorded thousands of phrases and sentences in anticipation of losing the use of his hands and arms, his legs, and eventually, his voice. We are sad to report that David passed away on March 12, 2016.

The piece that follows was written by OLLU English professor and TPR contributor Yvette Benavides.

David Sanor was my colleague at Our Lady of the Lake University for 21 years. In recent years,
we were office neighbors and chatted often about favorite things we shared--family, gardening,
movies, music, books, and linguistics.

Months after his diagnosis, David no longer had use of his hands. He could no longer walk. But
this didn't keep him from his work as our department chairperson or from his teaching duties.

In the fall of 2014, David had a general linguistic theory class that met on Monday evenings. We
arranged my accompanying him to each class--to wheel him over, to carry his bag of books and
notes, to turn the pages of those textbooks and notes while he lectured and discussed with the
students, and to negotiate the computer, clicking the mouse to advance his informative and
thoughtfully prepared PowerPoint presentations.

The classroom space is an inner sanctum for a professor. Entering another colleague's sacred
space of a classroom week after week is a rare and precious privilege. David appreciated my
assistance, but he also welcomed my presence, invited my engagement in the discussions with
the students. I'm a professor, too, and have studied linguistics, but I was a student on those
evenings. I learned a lot from him about dedication, courage, and strength.

Though we knew each other for two decades, in more recent years, David and I developed a
very special bond. We laughed together often, and sometimes we cried.

David was a devoted Buddhist. Often he offered to teach me to meditate. I rejected the idea
offhandedly. When he insisted, I became exasperated, and sometimes I could tell he felt that
way too.

Once, in the days before he could still get around with a cane, I explained my bandaged left
hand. I'd burned it badly while cooking. In the silent gap after some self-deprecating comment
or another I'd made, I impulsively added that many people had often commented that I had
nice hands--and now I'd ruined them. He was silent. He said he wanted to go back to his office.
I tried to take his arm, but he said he didn't need my help. I blinked back at him as he made his
way back to his office and closed the door.

A few hours later, he told me that my comment had bothered him. He said he'd felt some
nameless emotion, a negative one. He said, my burns would heal and the scars would fade.
And then, he said he felt bad for thinking that, for holding on to that dark secret thought about
my insensitive comment.

I learned such a powerful lesson in the apologies we gave each other that day--two friends,
brought together, trying to figure out one of life's most difficult challenges without rules or maps,
no instructive videos, no books to follow to figure it out. But also not a single shred of
dissimulation. That honest forthright exchange expunged us each from the pettiness that mars
some friendships. It was an oddly freeing moment, one that liberated me from such a
thoughtless quip and that I hope removed from him even the hint of disdain.

Our mutual trust expanded and our surprising friendship grew. Pretty soon the cane was gone,
and he was in the chair. Some days I helped him eat or take a drink of water. Once at a faculty
mixer, he sipped at a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with a straw I held up to his mouth. Someone
commented that she wasn't sure she could feed another colleague or wipe his mouth.

He was my colleague, but he was also my friend, and by then as close as a big brother. I know that
David would have done the same for me.

On Monday nights, no matter where I am, I think about going to class with David. I remember
how I looked forward to Mondays when I could go to class with him and not think about
anything else except the students and our shared fascination with language.

I learned many more things from David Sanor. At his memorial service on April 1, the family he
adored invited me to share some of these lessons. In memory of this dearest of friends, I'll share
them here one more time:

  • Lesson 1:  Be kind. Always be kind. Be patient and be kind. 
  • Lesson 2: Learn all you can about the world. Stretch your mind as far as the corners of this earth. Get to know people. Listen to them. Dance to their music. Sing their songs. Use their words to pray for humanity.
  • Lesson 3: Young people are not lazy. They are not selfish or thoughtless. They are learning. They are figuring things out.  They need our help.
  • Lesson 4: Praise your friends and co-workers. Recognize their efforts without a thought to what’s in it for you. Their success is yours because we are working together for common goals.
  • Lesson 5: Stand your ground. Sometimes you must do so in the background.  The spotlight is fickle. Light comes from within.
  • Lesson 6: When you are afraid, lean on your friends, even the ones you weren’t sure you could rely on. They will be there.
  • Lesson 7: Smile all the time, even through the worst of it.  Feel free to laugh at life’s absurdities. People will miss that laugh so very much when you are gone. People will miss that sweet, sincere smile. While you are here, smile and laugh.
  • Lesson 8: Tell everyone you know how much you adore the love of your life. Tell them often—every chance you get. Tell them all about your shared passions. Tell them your love is eternal and that you cannot ever imagine being on this journey without her. Tell everyone how beautiful your children are. Tell them you’re not just saying that or being biased just because you are their father. You really mean that they are so very beautiful. Tell everyone how proud you are of your grandchildren. Tell them about family trips and baseball games and hanging out at home. Tell everyone how proud you are of every single one of those grandchildren and that you love your family more than anything else in this world.
  • Lesson 9: Know that your suffering in this life has meaning. Know that.
  • Lesson 10:  You will go on trying to comprehend this suffering.  Just remember that we must face the best and the worst that life has to offer with honor and dignity.  Seek Peace.
David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi