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In Memory

April 7, 2020 pm30 11:27 pm

We are living through a crisis, a pandemic. We know because our lives are changed. We see the press conferences, the charts, the graphs. Flatten the curve!

But those charts, graphs, and curves, they are numeric representations. They tell us about the crisis. But they are composed

of people. People who got sick. People who we have lost. Focus on the curve, we need to flatten it. But do not forget what that curve is: People. People from China, or Japan, or Iran, or Italy, or Spain, or Washington, or our next door neighbors. And sometimes closer than that.

The tragedy is social. It hits all of us. But each loss is personal. And as we must slow down to preserve our physical and mental health, we must also slow down to recognize our loss, to remember, to celebrate each life.

My small school has lost two of our number in the last two weeks.

Denis Murphy taught English in our school, from the day it opened in 2002. There were six of us, founding teachers. I think of him teaching writing, getting more out of some kids than I would have expected. In reaction to the news, many alumni talked about learning from Murphy how to write. He ran the soccer club, served on the UFT consultation committee for many years. Denis was from Ireland (Kilkenny? or nearby?) and I occasionally got him to discuss the political situation in the south. The last few years he had some of his creative writing students write short plays. The kids would create a make-shift set in the lobby, and perform, to an audience that usually started small and grew. Denis would stand to the side, watching, with an obvious sense of pride in what they had accomplished. I’m going to sit quietly tomorrow, push my thoughts far away, and hold onto that image as I recall our 18 years working together.

Ulices Castro was a Lehman College Peace Officer. He was assigned to our school for most of his 16 year career at Lehman. Castro had a quick laugh and quick wit and a quick way of moving kids to class. And sometimes when a kid was drifting, Castro tried to push them in the right direction. I remember the exasperated sound of “Castro” or “come on Castro” from seniors who knew he was right. He cared about them. He cared about our school. He was protective of the building, of the students, of us, the faculty. And we knew it. “A pillar of strength” a retired math teacher wrote on learning the sad news “I loved him.” Castro always had the late shift, and was often there when I was settling in to program. Those late afternoons and early evenings we talked. We talked about labor. We talked about sports. We talked about policing. We talked about politics. We gossiped. Castro often took a psychological approach – he delved into the motivation of individuals, what made them do the things, good or bad, that they did. I want more time to think about Ulices, about the hours we spent talking, about what he meant to our small school’s community. I will miss him.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2020 pm30 11:41 pm 11:41 pm

    I’m so sorry, Jonathan. Thinking of you and your school community right now.

  2. Mike permalink
    April 8, 2020 am30 7:57 am 7:57 am

    Very sorry for your loss of colleagues and best thoughts go out to the members of their families and friends.

  3. Diane P Gallagher permalink
    April 9, 2020 am30 4:25 am 4:25 am

    I am so very sorry for you and your colleagues. Such unnatural deaths. Peace.

  4. Geedaj permalink
    May 8, 2020 am31 11:50 am 11:50 am

    This is a tragedy! I can only imagine what those wonderful men meant to everyone. They are really special an phenomenal human beings that were taken away from those who loved and cherished far to soon. My only prayer is that these men did not die in vein, that their is a cure for this horrible virus and that the world would come out the other side with a new sense of love for all humankind.
    May those wonderful young man remain in everyone memories that the have touch.
    God Bless


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