Letting suffering in: How a colleague's death changed my teaching

I saw the e-mail with my faculty colleague’s name in the subject line while I was at my son’s baseball practice. The message said he had “collapsed playing Frisbee with students” on the seminary lawn. Later I learned that a student had administered CPR while the rest waited for the paramedics to arrive. After he was taken to the hospital, the students kept vigil in the chapel.

I kept my own vigil at home, washing dishes, checking my e-mail every few minutes until a second one arrived two hours after the first: Professor Johannes “Jannie” Swart had died. It was Monday, the first day of fall classes.

Jannie and I joined the faculty at the same time a year earlier, and we quickly became friends. He’d show up in my office to chat—and sometimes plot—for the pleasure of the exchange, but also to put off writing his book.