The first time, I walked into the classroom a naive, if willing to learn, Mormon kid (yes, I was in my early twenties, but I was still very much a kid), a Mormon kid that was open-minded in some ways, and very entrenched in her religious beliefs in others. It wasn't that I was unwilling to be educated or to adjust my views on gender or sexuality, because, if I am being honest, even then I had questions about those subjects, and about myself, and saw the glaring contradictions and problems within my faith. But it's still *so* hard and very frightening to shake off a belief system that has grounded you and made up who you are for decades.
Dennis knew that, and he answered questions I had honestly and without judgment. He saw that I wasn't trying to be obtuse or difficult--I was trying to understand.
As a grad student, I once again took his literary theory class, and entered the classroom more accepting, still Mormon, but *just* starting to really question, quite literally, everything around me. And wasn't Dennis' classroom the perfect place for just that? He bought us pizza for dinner every meeting. He'd hand myself and another student some cash to order as much food as we could come up with. I was married after that semester, and he gave me and my husband a card and a check. Throughout the years, as I vocally and angrily questioned my religion, as I bumbled around Adjunct-land a couple times, as I stumbled more than once trying to settle into a career, we kept in touch via email and social media. Dennis didn't owe me anything. I was another face in a class, and that time was over. But still, he kept in touch online--sending congratulations when my children were born, commenting on photos, sharing messages about James Bond movies and '80s music videos. He would give advice and references when asked, and he was always honest, always encouraging, always frank, always there when asked. For years.A couple years ago, when my eldest child was going into the hospital for a procedure, we planned to finally meet for coffee (the word "coffee" indicating that I obviously left Mormonism, which forbids coffee consumption) afterward. In a haze of exhaustion, I canceled those plans, promising to reschedule. I never did. And for that, I am heartbroken. Without Dennis, I might not have had the courage to question, to doubt, to try, to take a couple leaps of faith when needed. I entered his classroom naive and shackled to a faith that wasn't for me. I left a better person. Without him, I might not have embraced my transgender sister-in-law years ago, or my own sexuality years later. I might not have had the courage to be myself. While I can't say that I am a great person, and sometimes, I feel barely adequate, I can say without a doubt that he made me better. And isn't that the point? These days, I don't know what faith I have, but I do believe we're here to make others, and the world around us, better. And judging from my experience, and those that others have shared via social media and in conversations with me, he succeeded in this, and he had a life well-lived, well done, and we are *all* better for it.
And thanks to Dennis, I will forever hear Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," and Art of Noise's "Close to the Edit," and be reminded of him. That, too, is a beautiful thing.