I entered Yeshiva University expecting to major in English; I had a vision of becoming a writer. That changed, for numerous reasons beyond the scope of this post, but in my freshman year at YU, before I went to Israel to study, I had the opportunity to take a course with Rabbi Dr. Maurice Wohlgelernter, who passed away last week.
I don't have that much to write about Rabbi Dr. Wohlgelernter, to be honest. I remember him vividly, of course; it would be hard to remember him in any other way, with his energy and his arch humour. I can see him in front of me. We called him The Reb; I remember him telling us, on numerous occasions, that the administration wanted to "get rid of the Reb." I remember him talking about the challenge of writing, about how he had difficulty writing because he would review his work and want to change every sentence. And I remember, to a certain extent, the way he taught us about symbolism in poetry - the meaning of death, actually, for example.
But I don't remember enough, and hearing of the Reb's passing, hearing people's reminiscences about him, reminds me that this is entirely my fault, and the fault of the immaturity I shared with my friends in our college years. Part of it was that I went to YU "early admissions", skipping my senior year in high school and starting college before going to Israel; the result was that I was younger than my classmates, and still very much in a high school mindset of getting away with as little work as possible, instead of maximizing my opportunities. And part of it was my own superficiality; despite some good teachers in high school, I didn't really think about what a quality learning experience could mean for me.
The result is that I am now in what I suspect is the July of my years, and I look back in wonder at the way I have wasted certain opportunities, like those years in college. No courses in astronomy or oceanography or Chinese culture. Credits crammed in, courses cut. Worthy professors whose words I listened to only for the sake of excelling at exam time. What a foolish young man I was; I've spent years since then reading up on many of the subjects I missed, but all of the reading I do now cannot replace what could have been, and how it could have impacted upon my growth.
Note to self: I hope that well before my children go to university I will sit down with them and encourage them to be smarter than I was. It would be a shame if they, too, missed out on their Rebs.