We really have had a lot of good presenters in this class. Scott had a great deal of insight, and I was quite taken by his introductory exercise and its questions for each person to discuss in a group. It was so basic and elegant. It helped us to know ourselves a little better and know one another. I wonder what other settings (even beyond the classroom) such an exercise could be used in?
Ernestine was intense, quite frankly. In fact, she was so intense that she was often a little difficult to listen to. Her story is very inspiring to me, because it represents something that I sort of wished had happened for a man who was one of my best friends in life. His name was Walter Hunker, and he was a brilliant man who spent much of his life on the very fringes of society. I actually met him in a soup kitchen. He was talking loudly, drooling on himself, and unintentionally spewing particles of food at the woman sitting across from him. At first, quite honestly, he didn’t seem like someone I would want to get to know. But later on the day when I first met him in person, I made mention of something related to history, and he asked me a (very indirectly related) question about the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen. I was absolutely floored by his question, and as we continued to talk, I realized that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and geography. This encounter sparked a long-term friendship, and as I would go to visit him in his dirty, smelly apartment that was situated in a “high crime neighborhood,” I began to realize that this man’s depth of knowledge and understanding of history was superior to that of many of the men who had taught me history over the years. I once asked him why he never became a history professor. He looked at me with a wry smile and gave a one-word answer: “drugs.”
In any event, Ernestine’s story was very inspiring, in part because she is living something that I wish one of my best friends had lived. Hearing her reading, I think he would have appreciated it very much. He liked things that were gritty, because (I think) he had the mentality that it was only in hearing the gritty side of things that one can arrive at the whole truth. He certainly would not have been one to look at things only from the perspective of the white kids with their red-lipped mothers and well kept yards. But on the other hand, I don’t think he’d have been willing to stop with Ernestine’s take either. It just wasn’t how he was. He would want to go and find out how the white kids were perceiving things. Why did they run away from her drunken grandfather and his fish? Why did they make rude comments to her? What were their real underlying motives and assumptions? I doubt he’d have been sympathetic to them, in the end, but he would definitely have been driven to know more.
My friend Walter died last year. I gave a homily at his funeral. He was one of the best men I’ve ever known. And he’s not the only brilliant person I’ve known on the margins of society. But that’s a story for another time.
Rest in Peace and Memory Eternal, old friend.