A Lasting Gift
A Lasting Gift
Early in the fall semester I received a lovely invitation from Bucknell Magazine’s editor to offer my “thoughts on hope” for an upcoming edition. I was asked something to this effect: What issues, ideas and inspirations give you hope?

I immediately flashed to some of the amazing students with whom I’ve had the privilege to work — those with ambition to improve human and environmental conditions are a continuous source of hope to me, so I was ready to write.

Then I heard the news. My dear friend and colleague, Professor of English Carmen Gillespie, passed away suddenly on Aug. 30. My heart broke. People far beyond the scope of campus who knew Carmen were devastated, with people reaching out to me and other friends of hers through social media, emails and phone calls, expressing shock and grief from all parts of the country and globe. Hope had dissipated, and I no longer had anything to say. What could I possibly have to contribute about hope in the shadow of such sadness?

As I came out of a personal fog, and realized the enormous scope of Carmen’s community, I began to see beyond the heaviness of my own heart. I thought of the immense generosity, compassion, motivation and intellect that Carmen embodied and that drew so many to her light. In her 54 short years, Carmen modeled what it is to live a rich and meaningful life, fully engaged with others and turning to those around her as a source of hope. Could it be that she left a roadmap for those of us left behind?

Orange and purple illustration of a flower with fallen petals
Carmen turned ideas into actions and individuals into communities. Her words were always kind and beautifully poetic, while she vehemently battled for justice and equality. Carmen brought groundbreaking artists/activists to campus, magically finding (despite the hard work underneath) how to share their brilliance with Bucknell. I cannot walk through this campus without seeing her indelible mark; she made tangible many noteworthy histories and untold stories. She even gave a prescient TEDx talk in 2015 that seems now to foreshadow how we must deal with our loss. I think of all the students, colleagues, family and friends whose lives are threaded with her poems, books she gave away, journeys she led and life-changing classes she taught, along with personal notes of support and encouragement. Carmen, the consummate teacher, educated the rest of us about how to live without her — with hope, grace and connection.

So I still have hope, in spite of this tragic loss. This incredible woman, poet, activist, mother, daughter, widow and friend, in her too few years on this earth, made such a deep, positive and lasting impact on so many people. She provided a map of the heart to show us how to live by making the most of our true resources: intelligence, creativity, action and community. For this lasting gift of hope, I am truly grateful.

Professor Kelly Hope Knox, dance