I tried, at first, to go through the motions; I was still numb from shock. I made the error of living off campus: in retrospect, it would not have been quite so painful had I gone into the dormitories.
I sank into a deep depression. Huge university, where people had already built their own niches from freshmen days, I was anonymous. I tried to make connections, and it was good to rediscover Caroline S., a friend from Governor's School. I also tried to reconnect with a childhood friend from my hometown library, but they had their lives constructed, and in truth, I was still trying to cling to what I'd left at Georgia, still reeling from some painful stuff in departing from my college debate society, driving nearly every weekend there, skipping classes at USC, and generally starting a downward spiral. It's hard to form ties in a new place when you keep removing yourself from that place at every possible opportunity.
In the anonymity of a huge school, nobody notices you. Professors have to deal with the bureaucracy of the collegiate red tape, in addition to all their other duties.
If angels somehow exist, one surely intervened then. And in of all places, a philosophy department, where we question everything we learn.
Nora Bell was heading up the philosophy department at USC at the time, and as luck would have it, one of my first classes at USC was one she taught. During the early days, when I still had energy to try, I'd written a paper that had received high marks. I really, truly enjoyed her classes, and wish I could take them again now, now that I'm who I am today instead of the grieving wreck I was then. She was a gifted instructor and brilliant author; it may surprise some to know this, but having seen both, I would say that at the time, the USC philosophy department staff was stronger than that of UGA; there were some amazing professors there.
I started missing a lot of class, and then she did the completely unexpected. She called my parents. People don't do that anymore, especially not for people who are 21 years of age, but she did.
Nora taught ethics (she founded the Center for Bioethics at USC), and she was very emotionally divided about calling them. She feared treading on my rights, on my private life, and recognition of my status as an adult, but as a mother, and as the caring, remarkable human being that she was, she saw a child in trouble. And I was in trouble. I won't mince words: I was suicidal. I'd never been that down before, ever. There's a very good chance that if it hadn't been for her and for the guy I was dating then, I would not be writing these words now. It's not being melodramatic to say that I likely owe both of them my life.
And she called my Mom and Dad, and let them know that a bright student who clearly grasped and cared about the material was missing her classes, and that didn't make sense, and something seemed to be wrong. Her intuition was correct. And I saw a counselor once, which didn't work out for shit. And I won't lie: things weren't magically better overnight. It wasn't a good time. I destroyed a relationship with someone I cared about very much because I had no love for myself and needed all the love I could get from all sources possible. I drained people of their kindness like a vampire, and wish I could undo a lot of what I did. I should have gotten more counseling and tried someone else. There are other things I should have done differently for my health. But it was a beginning, and it did get me started back up.
She is one of the people I admire most in the world. She surely didn't have every advantage getting to where she was, either. I don't know if she ever knew how grateful I was to her. I hope she did. I think she did -- she was very perceptive.
We don't forget our teachers. She did so much, gave so much, to so many. Served on many a board, received the Order of the Palmetto for service to the state of SC, and she liked the same Chinese restaurant I like in Columbia. The candles that burn brightest burn shortest, sometimes, it seems. She'd been fighting cancer, and the pneumonia she died from was immune-related, I've no doubt. I'm just so lucky to have known her, and hope that in some respects, I can be just a little bit like her. She was truly good. Truly honorable. She has a place in history; I know she will not be forgotten, not by me, and not by many others whose lives she touched.
I don't normally open up like this in a public post, but for Nora, I will. It's not something I talk about often, but she deserves that honesty and that recognition. I owe her a debt of gratitude that hopefully I can somehow repay by making a difference in someone's life the way she did in mine.
My mom called to let me know, and we talked about it for a while. I lit a candle for her tonight, and said a little prayer as I cried.
Wesleyan College Mourns Death of Former President Nora Kizer Bell
Nora Kizer Bell, 62, President of Hollins University, Dies
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Hematologic Malignancies Fund - Multiple Myeloma, c/o Dr. Morie Gertz, Mayo Clinic, 200 SW First Street, Rochester MN 55905.