We Called Him….Friend
“The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to expose him or her to other great people.”
—John C. Maxwell
I have been asking myself lately why I felt the need to write about these individuals who made such a big impact on my life. The answer…..I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m finally emotionally able to write about them. Or maybe now that this big life change has happened I have had the time to do some soul searching about people who have impacted my life both positively and negatively. Whatever the reason I write to process these feelings in private because I’ve always feared expressing emotions other than anger or laughter. One man that knew the trauma I was experiencing and that spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me each week was Dr. Charles Holmes.
I first met Dr. Holmes during my undergraduate work. I took several classes he taught on both the undergraduate and graduate level. He wasn’t a man that crossed boundaries. He was simply a man who loved his students almost like that of a father. The first class I took under him was the History of Psychology. Honestly, the class couldn’t have been more boring. I would have random thoughts like, “Oh my God did I remember to put on deodorant? Do penguins have knees? What did I wear? I look like I just rolled out of my hamper!” That was one class I truly had to suffer through not because of the instructor but the material. I was secretly thinking, “To have lobotomy by a leper wouldn’t be as painful.”
He taught many different classes that impacted the lives of so many students. And then…..I took the Psychology of Addiction and instantly I was in love. At the time, I had never spoken publicly about the puzzling nature of my life. When I presented the topic chosen in the class which happened to be about self-harm. I let my peers into a very small corner of my world and proceeded to throw up after the presentation was complete. I was also still living with my ex-husband so I was very cautious about telling too much. But with Dr. Holmes it was just different and you knew that by talking to him. He cared and wanted to know how his students were doing personally not just academically.
March 21, 1941-July 17, 2015
He told us about working with homeless addicts and alcoholics on the streets of New Orleans, LA and I hung onto every word he said. He knew I was living in an abusive situation but didn’t know the extent. He didn’t pry but rather just assure me that he was there if I ever needed to talk. He saw me struggling every day with my personal life of addiction but always had an encouraging word. He also presented the opportunity to speak to other classes and this continued on into graduate school. These opportunities were slowly making the shame and guilt dissipate while educating others.
After Hurricane Katrina he told me about some work he was doing in the Pearlington, Waveland and Bay St. Louis areas of Mississippi which were the hardest hit areas. I was already doing some photography for a book another teacher and I were working on about the devastation. He invited both Melody and I to help on some rebuilding projects through a Christian organization he was affiliated with. I can honestly say that the work done in those areas was extremely rewarding. Not to mention all of the memories that I still have from that. Here were families broken from the tragedy and I was there to help. My heart and soul lit up instantly.
I pulled him aside one day before class and said, “Dr. Holmes you’re messing up my theory about men.” He said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well my experience with men truly exemplifies that all men are pigs and extremely harmful. Why aren’t you?” He said, “Dana because I don’t see people in a way as personal property or to make personal gains.” We hugged and I have never forgotten that. He would soon make it where all of his classes were required to attend my speaking engagements on campus including the Regional Pine Belt Counseling Association where several professional members of the community also attended.
Once Mel and I moved to Albuquerque life got busy and we spoke every once in a while. But I did tell him when he asked where I was working that it was with the homeless and how much I appreciated him planting the seed. I missed him terribly and as my mental health declined all I wanted was to sit down with him and to be told, “It’s going to be ok.”
When we would travel back to Mississippi I would always stop by the college and look up these professors that meant so much to me. And I could always count on a big hug from Dr. Holmes and occasionally I would help “stomp out stigma and stupidity.” Whether he was in class or not I would peek around where he could see me and he would excitedly stop his lecture and say, “Come on in, Dana. Class let me tell you about this former student.” My heart leapt for joy each time and seemed to make it all worth it.
One day while Mel and I were planning a trip back to Mississippi his wife accidentally called me. It was probably a butt dial. But I called her back as this was odd. She told me, “Dana doc isn’t doing well and if you want to see him come on.” My heart sunk into my stomach and I felt sick. My beloved professor and friend was dying and there was nothing I could do.
We raced the clock trying to get there before he passed. Luckily or maybe something granted by the universe, we got there in time. I walked into his room where he was connected to different medical devices. I could see he was struggling to breathe and when our eyes met he said, “Dana?” I said, “Hey doc it’s me. I told you I would be here if you ever needed me.” He smiled and said, “Are you still cutting?” I said, “Really that’s your burning question to ask me after this long?” He and I chuckled and I said, “Yea doc I’m still struggling.” We had a rather short conversation but I told him before I left, “Doc thank you for being such a good man, professor and friend. You really blessed me and it was an honor to have you in my life.” We told each other “I love you” both with tears in our eyes and hugged. I left and he soon passed away.
When it was time for his service I saw some William Carey University professors like Dr. Cotten there and I was trying to choke back the tears that were wanting to erupt in my throat. Then as the service finished and people were mingling a couple walked up to Mel and I and said, “Hey, I think we know you.” I was scared to death because I couldn’t recall their names or faces. Ashamed I said, “And who might you guys be?” They said, “Your name is Dana, right?” I just knew that they must’ve seen my face on a wanted poster or something. Reluctantly, I said, “Yes that’s me.” And they said, “We remember you from helping to rebuild our house after the hurricane with Dr. Holmes.” I was astonished and had a sense of pride as well. I said, “Yes he was one of my good friends and I’ll miss him dearly.”