Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who They Are

Now and then I'll think about somebody for the first time in a good while.  I sometimes remember people I went to school with or a friend I knew briefly in a college course. Often it is a childhood friend or acquaintance who occupied a brief space in elementary school, Boy Scouts or Little League. Sometimes it's a former colleague I worked with for only a few years or even one year. So many of those young teachers appeared and were gone within the space of one school year.
Something will remind us of the person time or place.  Case in point, I once taught next to a teacher whose name was John Brown.  This was at a poor middle school in the Richmond ghetto of Northern California.  The student population was mostly Black and Latino, with a smattering of poor white kids and SE Asian refugee groups that included Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao.
So here were Mr. Brown and Mr. Greene virtually next to each other in the hallway of the main building.  Both of us were in our mid 30s at the time and we both had dark hair and a mustache.  My hair was mostly dark black or brown and Mr. Brown's hair and mustache were at least one shade lighter.  Nevertheless, much confusion.  Between the Brown and Greene, the juxtaposed classrooms and the similar appearances (though we hardly looked alike to me) this was a laughable situation...all year long.  I remember it fondly.
Sometimes we remember more of what we choose to remember than the reality of a situation or the person.  I think emot'ion comes into play here.  If it's a former lover, for example, we can be ever so kind and subconsciously lose track of the difficult times in favor of the more positive experiences.  We have to dig deep to recall some of those long talks or that sinking feeling that this relationship is doomed. Those emotions get buried.
A sort of defense mechanism, at best.  Straight up denial at worst.
I'm at the age when information about someone I once knew often comes out of the blue.  Yesterday I received just such a message.  I learned of the passing of a musician I'd briefly worked with back in my VISTA Volunteer days.  I remember him as a caring, talented trumpet player who had worked with some giants in the Blues and R&B field but got tired of traveling and wanted to do something for poor kids in his home town.  He was always a little convoluted or confused in some of this thinking about working with people or foundations but his heart and enthusiasm for helping people were pure.  I learned from another musician yesterday that he died a few years ago and got "super religious" before his death.  He became a self-styled minister with equal amounts of evangilism and paranoia in his writings and ramblings.  I'd completely forgotten he had a propensity for that.  There were signs now that I think further. So be it.  He was who he was and I recall some of the better parts.  So much is missing from the entire picture here but in the end I guess we just have to let folks be who they are. Nobody is defined by one trait alone.  No memory is fully complete or incomplete.

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