I was a young man (emphasis on the former probably at the expense of the latter) when I first visited what was then Union-PSCE. I was walking around with a head full of ideas, even then, when this little man with over-sized glasses to match his over-sized ears comes out of a large, brick building at the far end of the grassy quad.
“Hello,” he smiles. “Welcome! Are you a new student?”
“Um, I might be?”
“Oh, well I hope so!” His exuberance was in marked contrast to my hesitancy. Then he smiled again. “And this,” he said gesturing to the building behind him, “Is the place where you’ll want to be!”
“Uh-huh, ah, what is that? Classrooms?”
He studied me with a very serious look. “This is the Morton library.” Then he smiled again. “One of my favorite places in the world.”
That was my first introduction to Dr. John Trotti. Of course, I had no idea that he was a renown librarian and professor, much less that the gargoyle affixed to the upper corner of the entrance was in honor of him!
When I heard of his death this week, I immediately recalled my favorite memory of a conversation from years ago, which in turn was about one of John’s memories. Once upon a time, he lived in the same student housing where my fiance was living that summer. But with no air-conditioning! He told me how he would walk his rows of carefully planted corn in his garden outside the dorm, holding the water hose above his head, so that the shower fell upon the stalks and him. He then offered a blessing, “Let the water soak you to the fullest as you walk the good earth.” Those impromptu words have come to mean so much to me.
Time and time again, his genuine kindness and warm-heartedness coaxed me out of the depths of whatever existential crisis I had been living, largely in my own mind. Whether sharing popcorn while watching the University of North Carolina play basketball, admiring his tomatoes, or reflecting about Flannery O’Connor, he reminded me to look at the beauty right in front of us, to appreciate it, and enjoy life. Let the water soak you to the fullest as you walk the good earth.
John Trotti, you were my professor, neighbor, and friend — a delight, a sweetness, an intelligence … and a Tarheel! Blessed are they who die in the Lord; they will rest from their labors, and their deeds follow them. Indeed, their words are remembered.