Friday, April 26, 2013

In Memoriam, J.A.

We've known for a few days he was missing. Now we know for sure that his dark star enveloped him.   He was a beautiful person. He always looked to me like a child's version of an old owl, and quite a bit like the Edward Lear figures and even of Lear himself:  Shocking to realize that when I first came to know him, 12 years ago, he was probably my age now.  He was my children's teacher for two marvellous sets of first and second grades, which he team taught with another wonderful teacher and family friend, J.  He was a kind, quiet, generous, druid like figure.  It was a school, and a classroom, where everything done was done with gentleness and with dedication and a kind of unique patience with the trajectory of each child.  J.A. had an enormous capacity for wonder and he moved through that classroom--were the children really that tiny?--with its knee high tables and its turtles and areas set aside for quiet reading or noisy "take apart" like a little tramp steamer moving through familiar shoals. With a touch on one child's shoulder, and a shy smile for another, he brought a kind of organic flow to the room. Everyone was always busy, busy, busy. But there seemed an infinite amount of time for learning, for dreaming, for snuggling, for loving.

I'm trying to find it in my notes for that period of my life but I can't--one of my signature memories of J.A. is the day we came "up" to his class. My older daughter was in it and my younger daughter came with us for a visit to her big sister's classroom.  They must have been...four and six?  A, our youngest, kept her hand in the air all through morning meeting. She had something to say and she needed to say it.  We were all sitting around in a group--he was a master of negotiating the separate needs of his puling, squalling, squeaking, excited group of kids--and she had that hand up for what seemed like an hour. Finally he called on her and gave her his full attention and she made her point and he considered it. He considered it deeply (and it was worth considering deeply) and then he said "Thank you, A, I'm sure we will all be thinking about that for a long time."  She was thrown into ecstasies, transported in an instant into a world of civility, calm, and the intellect.

He and I had a separate relationship. We were co-conspirators in the hallways.  We bumped into each other, over the years, many times and talked a little politics.  9/11 happened before we got to the school but there were other major political incidents, school shootings, invasions and although we didn't talk about them directly we shared a political sensibility and his dry, quiet, shy wit jumped to something in my more noisy style.  I never knew anything about his personal life. We just shared a love for my children and an admiration for all new, young, growing things.  And for my hot fudge, which I made for him every year.  It doesn't amount to much--maybe 12 Pints? If I thought it could have kept him here I would have made him a gallon every year. More.

But we don't get to keep people, if they don't want to be kept.  I know this must have been a long time coming, and perhaps there was nothing that could have intervened.  But its my great personal fear that he did it, now, because of the Boston Marathon Bombing.  That one thing happening over school vacation, when we couldn't embrace him and hold him up, was the tipping point.

When I was an undergraduate, many years ago, I used to go and sit in the stacks at Widener Library and just read whatever was to hand.  For some weeks I found myself sitting near the section of World War II Concentration Camp Memoires.  Reading through those books I stumbled on two memoires of the same Camp and even, though the writers did not know of it, the same night.  It was a night when the Camp Authorities had decided to punish everyone by forming the Prisoners, weakened by starvation and cold, into a square and forcing them to stand at attention in the yard for the entire night.  For one of my diarists it was a night of unrelieved horror as prisoners froze and fell out only to be further punished for their weakness.  But for the other diarist it was a night to be remembered for the supreme humanity shown by the other prisoners.  For unbenknownst to some in the crowd the prisoners at the edge, who were the coldest because they were exposed on one side to the frigid air, were being rotated and shuffled from the edge to the center.  They were being relieved by other prisoners who would silently and stealthily take their place at the edge.

The Marathon Bombing, which in reality rockets from tragedy to bathos almost daily as the reality of who the bombers were becomes clear, is just such an instance.  Looked at one way it was a horror--and I certainly experienced it that way as I waited to find out what had happened to an unknown number of friends and acquaintances and the news rolled in.  But as we said to the children, echoing what was said later by a number of public figures "more people ran in to help than ran away."  And that was true.  The city survived, our friends survived, we go on.  Carlos Aredondo was there, a man who nearly threw his life away twice with the loss of his sons and lived on, in his words, "for an unknown purpose." That dark uncertainty came to fruition on that day when he was instrumental in saving someone's life.  If J.A. could have hung on a few more days would he have seen what we saw? Would he have felt that outpouring of love and that uprush of strength that we saw and felt?

But these thoughts are not his thoughts, and I feel silly even writing them down.  I wish he could have stayed with us a little longer.  I told the girls what I honestly feel: few people are as loved, were as loved, as J.A.  Few people have the honor to have been central in so many lives, to have lived such a fulfilled and fulfilling life.  If it was too brief and if he chose to end it that is still the case.  He was loved.  And he knew it.  He felt it every day, even if it wasn't enough.  He lived beautifully.  It was an honor to have known him.  I cherish his memory.

The temple bell stops.
But the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.--Basho

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