Red Ink in My Blood
Edward H. M. Wang (XS’75)
(This is one of the entries submitted for the Golden Jubilee Writing Contest and will be featured in the upcoming commemorative book, “Our Pride and Glory”. The author is a doctor associated with PGH (Department of Orthopedics) and is also a Xavier parent.)
As an orthopedic surgeon with a special interest in clinical research, I work closely with colleagues and resident physicians in the writing of scientific articles. In these collaborative endeavors, I am given the unique opportunity to evaluate and revise resident trainees’ research papers. Over the years, however, I have gained the reputation (more likely notoriety) of rewriting entire articles, filling them with insertions, suggestions, and alterations; a scientific paper not becoming “presentation-worthy” until it has run the gauntlet of my red pen.
Just this morning, I received a pile of research drafts from our residents and I have begun to review their submissions. I fling one research paper onto the worktable. Under the glow of the desk lamp, the red squiggly lines of my corrections become prominent against the tentative black font of the orthopedic resident’s draft. My bright scarlet letters squeeze themselves between paragraphs, around paper margins, horizontally, vertically, even diagonally, into every available space; directed by circles and arrows, sometimes even jumping onto the back of a previous page.
Thirty years ago, in my senior year in Xavier, my own essays were the recipients of these red marks. I still remember the delicate crimson calligraphy seeping effortlessly across my ruled pad—carrying literary interpretations, grammatical corrections, historical references, geographical explanations; always teaching, never condemning. I remember the fountain pen and inkwell from which these lines of burgundy sprung. I remember the large chubby hand that held the pen. I remember the fingertips, wet with saliva, first flicking through the pages of the current World Almanac, then (oh no!) flicking through my term paper. I remember the gigantic body with the wide thighs in the loose black trousers and the huge size 12 black Adidas shoes barely fitting into the teacher’s desk a few feet in front of the blackboard.
I can still smell that distinct incomprehensible scent we always thought was uniform for everyone who walked out from the “Fathers’ Building.” I can still feel the heavy steps that carried my teacher’s 6-foot frame just as I still shudder at his booming voice and teasing remarks, “Did you get it?” for a classmate who was happily picking his nose; “Nationalistic?” for another who insisted China carried the world’s largest land mass. (Xavier School was then still under the China Province.) He would tap at his temples as his ruddy face lit up when he found lines of inadequacy and “make believe” in my essays.
These are the images of the Reverend Fr. Daniel Clifford, S.J., etched into the recesses of my mind. When I remember my Xavier teachers, I remember and cherish these memories. But most of all, I cherish the wealth of knowledge he carried at his fingertips, the diligence and thought he must have given to each of his corrections, and the patience of transforming into fine penmanship and red ink his treasure of ideas. He seemed to have an answer to everything and he would explain, converse, discuss, and talk to you as an equal. (I sometimes think he really believed we were all his equals.)
Over a span of 3 decades, Fr. Clifford taught World Literature, English Composition, and English grammar to us Xavier High School students. He was a professor in metaphysics and philosophy, with an expertise in Existentialist Philosophy. For those of us who could not comprehend such big words, he was simply a “walking encyclopedia”.I have always marveled, “Why someone with so much knowledge - knowledge enough to comprehend man’s history, appreciate great literary works, circumnavigate the world’s geography—would be willing to come halfway across the globe, teach a class of rowdy senior high school students, and lose all chance for fame and fortune?” This I will likely never fully understand; but I consider it an exceptional privilege to have been his student. Today, thirty years hence, I look at the orthopaedic resident’s paper I am reading; I smile at the scarlet scribbles of my corrections; and I realize…the red ink runs in my blood. Thank you, Fr. Clifford.
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