Death and the Educational World:
This afternoon I attended a funeral. This is not an event that I look forward too, nor do I believe many people do. Usually funerals are important for two critical reasons, the first being the emotional closure to losing a loved one, and the second, as a time reflect on ones own mortality. Today, however, as I walked back down the path, through the trees of my undergraduate college campus, I could only think about the quietness in which educators passing has, both throughout history and our current time.
You see, this funeral, was not that of a family member or close friend, but of a late professor of mine. A man who helped shape my understanding of progressive education, the use of narrative voice in teaching history, an individual who not only transformed me but thousands of others, both through his teaching and also, throughout his transformative work in establishing a college that was unique unto itself. A truly full life he led. Even up to the end of his life, he was still transforming students and still teaching. Being a part of hospice care for nearly the last year of his life, my professor used this opportunity to teach others about death, and dying with dignity. The doctors said that by doing so, he extended his life prognosis by over six months. Every day, former students, family members, college administrators, professors, and his banjo band mates would come over to his bed, to be inspired by a story, to speak about the nature of learning, or to just jam out with friends.
This man was an individual who truly changed the lives of many. Is he leaving this world with a parade down Main Street of my town, or great admiration by the larger segments of society? No, nor would that have been what he wanted, but it is what he deserved. A few hundred of his classmates, advisors, mentors, family and friends, gathered in a traditional long house, to sing songs, tell stories and burn tobacco into the sky, to remember a dear friend and a great teacher. In a way, the mood and atmosphere was perfect and I would not have wanted it any different. However, what is remarkable to me is that not enough could be done to encapsulate the transformative spirit that this individual had on the educational world, and yet, the world gives very little back to a man who did so much for so many. It aches at my heart that I cannot cry out and yell to all those who are in near or far distances and shout with joy and sadness of the greatness and great loss of this person.
I’ve come to a conclusion about being a member in the educational world. It is by far an insular world that has close relationships and is met with little fan-fare. The adulation in which you will receive by your work will be little, but the lives you change will be great. There will not be a three day morning with thousands of visitors, but there will be a small gathering of people who feel sincerity and warmth by your presence and that remember you for all of the ways in which you helped them. In so this way, a ripple effect is born out of the educator’s life, and their death, and whether you are within the system or without it, the change you will have is most assuredly in the lives of the individuals in whom you touched, and maybe not in the world you were inspired to change.
It is important to remember that our time is precious and our relationships are meaningful. We are only here for a short amount of time, we must make the most of what we have to offer and embrace the positive all around us. I will leave you with one last quote from the philosopher Rumi, which sums up the educators existence.
“Yesterday, I was cleaver and tried to change the world. Today I am wiser and I am trying to change myself.”