This English professor is our favorite. He is charming and self-deprecating and entertains us with literary anecdotes. In the back of the room sits Harry, loud and abrasive. We feel defensive for the professor, who never shows any irritation with him. We each secretly wish Harry wasn’t part of our class. The professor opens this day’s class with the first line of Donne’s poem. “No man is an island,” he says. “Let’s look at what this means…” Harry’s hand goes up and we brace ourselves for whatever objection he will bring forth.
But then in front row, something happens that shifts our attention. A girl is making noises and leaning backwards. The professor is frozen in place, not sure what is happening. “She’s having a seizure,” someone says gently from behind us. We don’t recognize this voice and we are incredulous when we see Harry walking toward the front of the class. “Let’s lay her down.” Harry’s voice is low and soft. With the help of another boy, he gently slides the girl to the floor and cradles her head. “Epilepsy.” His single word explanation is uncharacteristically brief. “This will pass in a moment.” The professor’s hands grip the podium; the rest of us are motionless in our seats. Eventually the girl’s eyes flutter open. “It’s okay. You’re safe. Just rest,” Harry says. We are shocked by this medical emergency and speechless at the kindness coming from this abrasive student.
The professor dismisses the class and the next morning reintroduces the poem for discussion. From the back of the room we hear Harry’s voice rising, rough and argumentative.
the catbird finds a sweet berry
in the poison ivy