I could not sleep last night. I kept tossing and turning until 3:00 am. When I decided to finally get up and check my phone, I learned of the passing away of Dr. Kristiaan Aercke.
I met Dr. Aercke when I was sixteen years old, and he was my first mentor and biggest supporter throughout my academic career. I took six courses with him in my two semesters at LAU, and I fell in love with literature all over again because of him. I then decided to leave to California, and Dr. Aercke wrote a magnificent recommendation letter for me to submit wherever I was going. I remember asking him for five letters although I needed only four, and I opened one up to see what he had written about me. When he found out, years later, what I had done, he rolled his eyes at me in a manner only Kristiaan Aercke is capable of: Very dramatically in the most undramatic way. When I came back to LAU to finish an MA I had started at SJSU, Dr. Aercke was there to welcome me back. He taught me courses and stepped in when my thesis advisor bailed out on me towards the end of my thesis journey. Throughout that journey, he made sure I was doing a good job. He made me put my work on hold in order to publish, saying “you can always come back to this thesis, but you will never have this chance to publish in this reputable journal again.” I remember citing Freud in some paper “as cited in,” and Dr. Aercke gasped when he read that. He sent me home with all the works of Freud to read over the weekend so I never ever cite Freud “as cited in.” He knew what I was capable of even before I knew. As a Chair, he encouraged me to pursue every single opportunity available, and he was the one who sent me to AUB with a pat on the back saying that I have more room for growth there. In 2017, I emailed him to let him know that I was applying to IUP for a PhD in Composition and Applied Linguistics, and he made sure IUP received his letter of recommendation overnight. In short, he was what a true mentor is: Available, supportive, kind, considerate, and sees potential where no one else does. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.
I had been wanting to visit him for the longest time, but COVID-19 prevented me from doing that. I wanted to email him or call to let him in on the good news about achieving candidacy, but I thought I should hold off until I am ready to defend my chapters: I wanted to invite him to the defense. I knew he would come. I was sure of it. What I did not know, is that life had other plans for us. For him.