The Day Before Valentine’s Day

My Valentine, Andrew

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day. I am sure that most parents have received a Valentine card from their children when they were young. I did too, from Andrew. In our old house, where we lived until last May, there was a red heart taped to one of the kitchen cabinets.  It was a big, Valentine paper heart, and it stayed taped to the cabinet in the kitchen from the moment it was given to me years ago, until we moved.
I remember the children’s first Valentine’s day at their new school in America. They came home with a bag full of cards and candies. The school policy was that children did not give individual Valentine cards. Instead, if they wanted to give someone a card, they had to give one to everyone in the class.

There must be millions of young (and not so young) people looking forward to tomorrow, looking forward to being with their Valentine, planning surprises, or taking advantage of the day to make their feelings known.
Before he died, Andrew had his first serious crush on a girl in his dorm. I wish he was be here to celebrate Valentine’s day with the girl of his young dreams. Or with us.

We love you Andrew. You are our Valentine.

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5 thoughts on “The Day Before Valentine’s Day

  1. Dear Mrs. Williamson-Noble,

    I have been following your Huffpost articles and this blog. First, let me extend my deepest condolences. Also, I must remark upon the absolute love, comfort, and happiness with family that I see in the pictures you have graciously shared with us of your son’s life. Although your beautiful, talented, extraordinary son might have felt lonely and despairing in a fleeting sense, in a nano-second of relative time, I do not believe he ever was truly alone, or that outside of that nano-time, he could not have felt loved by those closest to him.

    As a former college instructor, and also many times in later life, a student, I must urge that you enlist the teaching community in your awareness campaign– at once a personal tribute to your son, and a selfless advocacy of other young people and their families and friends.

    I was not the most organized of teachers. I was not by any means material suited to a prestigious university such as NYU. But what I did manage to do was to take a personal interest in my students and to attempt at all times to encourage them, in both good and bad times, and to let them know they could talk to me. My concern for maintaining such a rapport, even if to the detriment of other pedagogical skills, was cultivated over and over when I encountered mentors who were willing to reach out to me on a person to person basis, whether to affirm an academic or creative success, to inquire about my welfare, to share a personal and human moment about themselves during lecture, or to point me to resources. What was most important was the human touch. My father was an educator as well; my mother, a high school librarian–both listened, shared, and ministered to their students within their own professional limits.

    Teachers need to talk about depression, grief, sadness, feelings of alienation–not just in the abstract–and they need to recognize the vita role they can play in putting a welcoming face, not just an accessing one–on education.

    I have always managed to let my students know that I know this is the most difficult, demanding, stressful, and complicated time of their lives—whatever their backgrounds and ages–also, that I have had some tough moments and that they deserve to avail themselves of all services that come with their tuition, including clinical ones.

    Recently, my teacher in health class, at a local community college, while letting us know about available counseling, shared that she had had times in her life when she had to seek counseling. It was important that she reminded us that the counseling services were confidential, diverse ethnically, prepared to refer us to their services if needed, and that she took time to respond to students who were skeptical abut these services.

    A kind word, an expression of concern, an invitation to talk, and a willingness to open one’s own heart as well as to relate intellectual content to the human condition are as important– perhaps more so–than any knowledge we have to impart in the context of a course.

    I hope that fellow teachers might take the time to give that word, to express that human dimension within their discipline, even if it is at the expense of covering the chapter, getting through the entire lecture, nurturing a student’s academic ambitions–or their own. Let us never forget that we serve as “in loco parentis,” and let us view each student as our own dear son or daughter.

    Lecture halls with 500 students do not promote the bonding so necessary to the challenging transition students undergo at a new institution. Those teaching gen. ed. undergraduate classes should view themselves as “first responders.” Assessing the emotional comfort level of our students is as important as assessing their academic performance. By no means am I blaming teachers, but “the system” needs to change–so as to support teachers in the most meaningful role they can ever play in the life of their students.

    Thank you Andrew’s family for working towards change. Yes, he might have felt alone in that library at that nano- moment, but in the sum total of his too-few 20+ years, he knew love, a rare and all-encompassing love, sheltering and lifting him, from all of you. In the same way, he sheltered and loved you. This is why that one moment is such a tragedy. Not yours to prevent–of course you would have. Now yours to contribute to preventing for other beloved sons and daughters. I only wish I could help. Sincerely, Virginia

    • Dear Virginia, to have the love that surrounded and surrounds Andrew, recognized, is balm to my aching heart. YES, YES, we loved him, all of us every moment, his heart was part of our collective heart. And, we know that he loves us, and loves us still.
      You say that you wish you could help; can’t you? As a teacher can you not help suggest ways in which the college community can change?
      I am going to email your comment to NYU’s president, John Sexton, if you don’t mind.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it. Please do keep in touch.
      Esmeralda – Andrew’s Mummy

      • Dear Mrs. Williamson-Noble,
        I have been thinking about you, your family, your extraordinary son every day and night since you so graciously replied to my post. I see that you reply with such thoughtfulness to so many and I know the psychic energy that takes.

        Indeed, I would like to help. Although I no longer teach, I have some ideas. I do think this particular time, this transition, even for the most “sophisticated” of us, when we reflect upon our younger “on to college selves” –this movement from the smaller community to the larger, no matter how those young selves longed to enlarge upon what seemed a limited identity– this motion alone makes demands that none of us, least of all those, like your son, enlivened in sensibility, promise, compassion–could expect, could endure without some compensation: moral, ethical, pyscho-existential….

        I would guess that you trusted that your son had a sort of entree into a protected commnunity–an extension of his own family– but also a place, which he himself, through exemplary industry, intelligence, talent, and character-had secured. And though you will never point this out, it’s apparent, that you made sacrifices, went all out, so to speak, to nurture your sons and your daughter, culturally, socially, spiritually… you were enlightened, thoughtful, loving…

        Why did THIS happen?

        I can only affirm what I say above. All that you as a family, as a community, as mother and father and sister and brother and fencing fellows, did—were aware of, extended to, received from, interacted with—all the love you gave and received–had nothing to do with this tragedy.

        In the same way, this tragedy, in no way takes away from or begins to equal, that love, as it was given and received, as it will continue to be.

        As to why media has not responded to your urgent campaign to educate, to help…well, meditation, as an angle–and this is how TV big-whigs look at these things–is obscure, recondite.

        I think you are right about it though. But fact is, it’s Ma and Pa Kettle that thse shows count for audience. Any practice that seems unlike the familiar “genuflection” or “prayer” is seen as suspect–at least in terms of what these shows’ producers worry about.

        I still think there are those who will resonate with the idea that meditation helps us go within, get to our universal and perhaps even divine core, that it, or any like effective practice, can sustain, enrich, inform us, and that such could be an antidote to the impulse to obliterate the sorrows and confusions we all experience at one time or another if we have a pulse—

        There are those. Depak Chopra. Others. But not the producers of the shows that might reach the folks you, and I — feeling humbly, a bit, invested now–or others now dedicated –might want to reach. Do you drop what is perceived by these folks as “the angle?” I am not saying you should.

        I am not sure that your advocacy for the solution can be separated from your experience of “the problem.” As practice, these two are inseperable. But consider: many of us do not understand such a reality, such duality.

        If you consider that, the lack of any spiritual orientation, East, West, or otherwise, for most of T.V.s audience–including ME– can you not still contemplate a way in which you, and those of us who feel for you, could get the vital message across that your experience merits, not only as a personal tribute, but moreover as a caution and possibly a life-saver for other parents?

        I think presenting the problem might be the first approach. “The problem” is widespread–but focus is necessary–the problem is the alienation, disorientation, anomie, suffered by even the most “savy” and privileged students at even the most prestigious colleges. The problem is that such colleges do not seem to understand the most fundamental facts about their young and vulnerable constituency, or act on their duty to provide safety to their student community, and when caught with pants down, fall back on blaming their own young– and on self-serving platitudes.

        Once problem is firmly established, the healing can be introduced.

        But,the problem is yet to be identified. Have you reached out to other parents who have gone through this, and feel the institution should have done lots more? Do we have stats on this situation?

        I’m sure there are legal imperatives that might have to be considered in terms of your gathering facts and your speaking with other parents about this, much less informing public of same.

        Thanks– I don’t know what else to say. I still wish I could help. I am an amateur researcher/writer and would be glad to be of service. Virginia

  2. Andrew’s mum,
    You have done a lot of research and presented it here. Read through the posts and I just had not seen all of them. I’m just angry that Larry King et al have not done anything. But, you have. Thank you. V

    • Dear Virginia, thank you for keeping in touch, I do appreciate it. I am doing what I can. It is a learning experience. Andrew died less than four months ago.
      I am attending a Suicide Prevention Conference from March 7 to 9, which will conclude with a visit to The Hill, each delegation to meet with our respective senators and representatives. I am heading the NY delegation. Every 16 minutes someone dies of suicide in the United States. The President does not send a condolence letter to the families of military personnel who have died by suicide.
      Although my main area of interest is the student population, I am trying to learn all I can about the whole picture.
      I found an interesting article on line, written by a recent NYU graduate, Elizabeth Brackbill about her Icarus efforts at NYU.
      And finally, if you any “angle” suggestions, please let me know.
      Best,
      Esmeralda

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