Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

J. Douglas Canfield: Teacher, Mentor, Colleague

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

J. Douglas Canfield: Teacher, Mentor, Colleague

Article excerpt

It was late in the afternoon at the end of spring semester (2003), and I was on my way to the parking garage when I decided to see if Doug Canfield might be in his office. Sure enough, he was just finishing with an undergrad and waved me in. He looked tired and heavy, and his breathing was labored, yet he seemed as industrious as ever: he sat at his desk, papers strewn about and books piled high in haphazard heaps, proofing a manuscript that was due at the publisher in just days. It had been several weeks since we had spoken, and as I sat in the chair beside his desk, I realized, "Yes, this is serious now." Still his usual cantankerous, boisterous sell he began ranting spiritedly about some injustice or other. I tried to focus on what he was saying, but he seemed so uncharacteristically vulnerable: his shoulders drooped slightly to support his body, and his voice, almost whispery, competed with the rhythmic puff of his oxygen tank. Even so, he spoke animatedly and turned our conversation to the job market--what I could expect, how I should conduct myself, features of my persona that he felt made me a strong candidate, etc., etc. Looking back, I wish I had listened, but at the time I could only think, "Here he is, barely able to breathe or walk, and he's teaching me, still." The room was calm, and the blinds filtered out the intense afternoon sun. As he spoke, he maneuvered his wheelchair from desk to bookshelves and back again, pausing and spinning to punctuate his remarks. I was grateful for the dim lighting and the space between us because tears would fill my eyes as I struggled to find words to respond to his queries. At the time, my father was diagnosed with a similar disease, and witnessing Doug's rapid decline affected me profoundly. But the last thing I wanted was to upset Doug or allow him to note what I was recognizing.

Earlier that day, medical services had delivered a large metal barrel of oxygen, from which Doug would fill up the portable canister he wore at all times now. He mentioned at one point in our conversation that the small unit was running low, so he wheeled his chair over to the large canister and hooked up the smaller one. We both continued talking casually, when suddenly great clouds of smoke came billowing from the barrel, and both units started shaking violently. I ran across the room, and Doug asked for the key hanging on the back of the barrel, but we soon realized that the technician had forgotten to include one with the new supply of oxygen. I tried to figure out how to work the valve, but I couldn't see over the top of the canister very well, and once I found the lever, I couldn't budge it. Just as we were beginning to panic, Doug pulled out a Swiss army knife and, seated in his wheelchair, started jabbing at the top of the metal container! This was a bit worrying, since we were both within inches of it, and it was under great pressure. I tried to direct him, and somehow, after about five minutes--the canister shaking, rattling, and smoking, and Doug working furiously--he maneuvered the shutoff valve, and all went silent. We stared at each other. I was still holding my breath when Doug, with a rather amused, wide-eyed expression, said, "Good thing you were here today," and chuckled to himself. Personally, I was horrified, but I also couldn't help but smile and shake my head. It was a quintessential "Doug" moment--the Doug known by friends and colleagues as much for his MacGyver-like resourcefulness and unassuming fondness for sporting and the outdoors, as for his intellect and professional reputation.

We spoke for a short while longer, but were both exhausted by the experience and the Tucson heat, and he asked quietly if I would drop off some mail for him and send somebody from the English office to wheel him out to the parking garage. I said, "Certainly," and turned to go. I wanted to thank him, to tell him how much he had meant to me, to give him a hug, but I didn't want to say goodbye--and I knew he'd know that's exactly what I was doing. …

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