“Not only the worst of my sins, but the best of my duties speak me a child of Adam” – William Beveridge
This is the season of hecticness- of too much to do, and Christmas and the end of the semester and a New Year and… and… and…life- lived at a fast pace.
And I just found out that my friend, Adam got taken off of life support by his beloved wife.
I call Adam my friend, but really, we weren’t “friends”. We didn’t exchange confidences; we didn’t talk about the latest things in our lives- heck we rarely even directly talked. But we were two similarly-aged professors in the same department, and I understood where he was coming from. We shared friends in common. I got his humor. But we weren’t peers.
For Adam, was, ultimately, my teacher. Adam was a person with a vision. He was an education revolutionary- who wanted to use education as a means of bringing about social justice. A man whose hero, among others, was Paolo Friere– whose philosophy of “Liberation through Education” – that people who are poor and powerless can achieve the means to change the system through literacy.
Adam taught me that education is a tool- a tool for change, a tool for people bettering their lives, not by copying the lives of others, but by gaining their own power. One can only redefine a system if one understands it.
What I most admired about Adam is that he lived, he truly lived his ideals. His was no “airy-fairy, feel-good” philosophy. Adam organized a bunch of students to live in a homeless “tent city” on the college campus for a week so that they might truly begin to understand the emotional and physical impacts of being homeless and powerless. Adam led groups of students and faculty to Jamaica for three weeks to work in the schools and hospitals there- not to “do good”, but to empower the people there to do good for themselves through education. Adam got our family involved in the “Santa Project” in which students and faculty brought food and presents to a homeless shelter in Louisville- where my children for the first time saw desperation close up and realized that these were not bad people- these were people who had made bad choices or had bad things happen to them- or who had been failed by a bad system- and that education was the way that they could find power for themselves. Adam was a missionary- not for religion, but for individual strength and systemic change. For the power of education.
Adam’s laugh would echo through the hallways of the college. He sang and played guitar in a band, and I would feel a teeny crush on him as we watched him sing about injustice and lonliness and irony. He was sarcastic and impatient at times-especially during faculty meetings- and while his ideas were bigger than a college could absorb at times, his vision and laugh endeared him- even to administrators and Foundation board members of a small Catholic college in the Midwest. He once said that he was there because he needed to make a difference where he was a lone voice, not in a place where he was but one of many voices. Adam… Adam was a changer.
And Adam changed me. Even though we were not “friends”, even though I hovered around the periphery of his activities, he made me think. He made me reconsider what I did for children with exceptionalities, why I was in education. He made me see systemic injustice whereas before I had seen only individual struggle. I read Merton; I read Friere; I read Adam. He was a revolutionary. And to my own students, I now can show a world where they can make a difference; where by educating others, they are the only hope of making a difference. I admired him; I cared for him and I grieve that a good man of vision and love is gone.
He was in his late 30’s, early 40’s. He played tennis, ran regularly, and drank occasionally. He watched what he ate, and was almost gaunt at times with the power of his convictions. If I had ever, in a morbid moment, imagined his death, it would have been an assassination, or being shot in a Freedom March, or being killed as he traversed the ghettos of Oakland or Louisville or Jamaica or some other home of desperation. It would not have been as a heart attack, a week before Christmas.
His wife- whom he always introduced as his “partner”- who brought out a glow in his eyes like no one else- sent out an email yesterday that ended with one of his favorite quotes.
Nasa Proverb (Colombia)The word without action is empty, action without the word is blind, and action and the word outside the spirit of the community is death.
Adam, indeed, formed a community- and one that spread far beyond his immediate touch. One of our students wrote on his Facebook page: You really helped me to grow in my view of the world, and how it could be with my help.
The power of education, indeed. Amongst these days of light, is grief.