He had an open door policy. And he always opened up his home, not just for me to visit and stop by and hang out with his kids, but for all the community kids to stop by and hang out. He had a pool and used it to host us as often as he could. And I always remember that he was one of those parents who didn’t just scuttle me off to hang out with his son and daughter, but that he was actually interested in me as a person separate from his kids. He’s one of those guys who allowed me to feel that I have many mothers and many fathers. And he was one of them.
Finally, he was the first person outside of my (Nigerian) culture who taught me that you can actually give without requiring anything in return, without a debt being incurred by the receiver. He would just take us randomly to hold class in a coffee shop (he looooved coffee) and buy it for people. And he did this even when there was not a class. He’s taken me before alone and bought me a drink and or a pastry. And he never expected me to pay nor to pay back. I liked that. I think it rubbed off on me a bit.
Here’s to you, Tim.
And yes, besides multiple fathers of friends, I did have another peer pass away. Again, please excuse me for not getting back but I’ll answer questions here. In short, what was strange about the passing of this friend was that it was new for me. Every death is new and unique because it is a different person. In the past, I’ve had friends who have died due to illness, some, sadly while I was away. I’ve had friends who have committed suicide. I have never had a friend who was murdered, yet that happened to my classmate, Greer.
Greer was in a different department and art area than me, but we were the same class in school, so we definitely knew each other. Greer was playful, fun, real, spontaneous, and beautiful. I think I always ended up laughing when talking with her and another classmate of ours. She ended up going to Louisiana for school while I went to Massachusetts. We lost touch during that time.
However, I was super-lucky that in the process of organizing our first high school reunion I got back in touch with her. And my, she really blossomed. She had joined a sorority and, though she was the same Greer (stilly silly and funny) she was even more beautiful as she was forging ahead in life.
Greer and I used to double date. I don’t know if people know that, but in addition to seeing each other without people we were dating, we have double dated before. I think those relationships were/are painful for both of us. Whether by force or choice, we both got out of sub-optimal situations and were working through it (or still working through it). Often times, it’s like a restart and sometimes people can help you along. Other times people can set you back. In the end though, she was doing it and making it and moving on. Anyway, I could identify with that. We would have double dated more but I ended up moving away and so Greer and I kept in touch intermittently via email or Skype. And that’s how we checked in with each other.
I last tried to contact her at the end of last year and beginning of this year but could not reach her for some reason. So I’m sorry she didn’t even get my last messages or we didn’t talk again. So to the most wonderfully trusty being I know, the girl with the crazy laugh, the one who loves the 80’s (more than me-ha!), the woman who always made me feel short (she would say it’s not hard), and the woman who is able to see beauty in all peoples, I miss you, Greer!
I’ve been lucky to have students keep in touch with me over the years. I have a number of students fall out of contact simply because I don’t use Facebook much or we’re not connected yet on Facebook. But to the ones who keep in touch, I’m grateful.
I was invited to a number of graduations so back in May, I visited the States for a graduation tour from Iowa to Maryland to California. It’s a really beautiful thing to live in a cold country with dark skies most days wondering where spring is, and then to find yourself in the middle of Spring in Iowa. Even if your eyes don’t realise your sinuses and allergies certainly do. But it was so beautiful to seethe campus of Grinnell College in Iowa and southern California in general. After all, “it never rains in Southern California.”
Beyond the beautiful backdrop of colourfully shed leaves, manicured grass, and swaying trees, I was most amazed to be invited. Imagine seeing people you know as little children graduating from university. And they introduce you not just as “my teacher,” but as “my mentor.” That “mentor” word floored me, I had to take a moment. Some people actually think of me as their mentor. In fact a few of my students are becoming teachers because of me. One of my students is becoming a math teacher because of me even though she was an Anthropology major. It was pretty incredible. I was really honoured.
I was also really cynical. There was such a strong sense of mission and purpose in all the graduates. Every graduation event, whether it was a concert or Class Day, commencement exercises or a tribute for family—everything was filled with the sentiment that Grinnellians were going to go out and change the world. Even though Grinnell is known for its strong service ethos and the incredibly high percentage of graduates that join groups like Peace Corps, I was just unimpressed.
Most of the time, I sat there wondering, “Do they know? Do they even realise that 10 years from now, they will not have changed the world? Do they realise that that is a big, tall order? Do they know you can have the best laid plans and the biggest dreams and do everything right to get there and love everyone along the way, but that it doesn’t only depend on you? Do they know that people will fail them, disappoint them, give up on them, let them down? Do they know the most committed among them won’t go the distance?” Do they know.
I guess I was a bit jaded, somewhat. I’m so mission-driven I’m happy to sacrifice other comforts for the cause. I remember asking someone to help me on a project that I thought he (Ben-changing his name) was super-passionate about. The only difficult is that circumstances didn’t allow us to work optimally, so Ben and I would have to work through (and with) other people. I was completely gutted when Ben declined. It was the way Ben wanted it to work or not at all. I suppose that and other situations were just ringing really strongly in my head when these kids who were graduating were telling me how they were going to change the world. I knew they could change a person or a family or a community but to change the world really depends on a bunch of other people outside of their control. I was over it and was waiting for them to get over it.
Then something happened that week. I don’t know if it was good to take walks in nature and reflect. I don’t know if I was inspired by their commencement speaker. I don’t know if it was just simply talking with parents and seeing how much farther their children have gone. But I started believing it again. I started drinking the Kool-aid, if you know the phrase. Maybe you can do it.
Maybe you can change the world. But along the way, you may have to get with the right people who can overlook creature comforts and sacrifice a few things to do that. You may have to deal with setback and people falling off from the vision because they are not as committed to it (commitment always shows up in the end), or not as inspired by it. But maybe you can do it. Still, maybe it has to be one person at a time. And maybe, just maybe, if other people are changing other single persons at a time, maybe then it can change.