he travels best that knows when to return



Lucy and Peter after class, Vance Hall, UNC

Almost without fail, Tessa and I have journeyed to Chapel Hill every year to teach one of Dr. Peter Kaufman’s classes at UNC. And without fail, it’s always a fantastic trip, getting to dip our toes in the undergraduate experience once more and meeting a cadre of cool kids. I use the word “kids” self-consciously, because every time I step onto campus, time stops and I am eighteen years old again, wondering what Jon, Chip and Bud are doing for dinner. In essence, I don’t feel that different from them, even though they were born in 1987 and I have a toddler who keeps yelling “Daddo has ears!”

This year’s classroom was a little more subdued, a little harder to entertain. I know it well, since that was usually my class. I remember taking Max Steele’s creative writing course at UNC and him telling us we’d been a really boring group. I recall agreeing with him, but it’s all about chemistry, right? The identical group took Doris Betts’ class the next semester, and we tore the place up with hilarity and hijinks.

Anyway, this year’s theme was Revenge and Forgiveness – which was perfect for Tessa’s film Five Wives. Conveniently enough, it was also perfect for their other assignment, which was reading my “Why I Hate Dook” articles from 1990 and 2007. Tessa elaborated on the finer points of media criticism and painted a complicated picture of her father’s racism, classism and attempts at showing true love.

I made jokes about Christian Laettner. I feel it was a well-rounded class.

Peter Kaufman remains an enigmatic, tortured, brilliant teacher with strains of unfettered pessimism and luminescent idealism. He’s recently had the best-selling book of his career (Incorrectly Political) yet opted to forgo a book tour in order to teach his classes. The hour of RELI 40 he taught on April 22, 1990 was the last formal education I ever had, and I couldn’t have gone out any better.

My wife and I, while very different people, are oddly nuanced, occasionally contradictory, bizarrely eclectic, mistrustful of organized religion but beholden to tradition, and quite sentimental. We were even unsure of our definition of marriage, and spent months trying to parse it out. Who else but Peter could have married us?


August 9, 2003, 7pm – Columbia County, NY – about to rain eight inches

0 thoughts on “he travels best that knows when to return

  1. scruggs

    I took his History of Christianity class. Unfortunately, that was during my first two years at UNC where I was either in the Pit or He’s Not and didn’t really make it to any classes. But I think he used to throw M&Ms out to the class. My loss!

  2. CL

    Anyone who teaches anything has my utmost respect and awe…and he sounds like a real master.
    I teach one writing class a year at a teen writing seminar each March, and while I love being able to do it, it is so scary trying to keep teenagers’ attention and respect for even an hour and a half, and I’m so exhausted afterward…and that’s just one day!!
    How people teach several classes a day and have the patience and talent just amazes me.
    Love the photo at the end.

  3. Rebecca

    Random event that made me think of your family yesterday: My son and I checked out Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” at the library. It is dedicated to his daughters, Tessa, Ophelia and Lucy.
    Have a great time in Chapel Hill! I loved that Religion 40 class. If I had taken that class, or an intro. archaeology class (I don’t remember the class number) before my last semester, I’m certain I would have had a different major.

  4. Laura

    Longtime lurker, brought out of the shadows by the mention of Dr. Kaufman. He is, by far, the single most important teacher I have ever had and I’m lucky to still be in touch with him. You’ve reminded me to send him an email and tell him how fortunate we all are to have learned from him. Thank you!

  5. kent

    Hey that’s the back of my head, holding up the Chupah!
    It should be noted — if it wasn’t clear already — that we’re eclectic, not jewish. Though it was threatening rain, so a Chupah was a quite practical thing.


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