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A Year Ago, Today

April 4, 2021 pm30 11:59 pm

I didn’t learn about Tom Waters’ death until almost a week after the date, April 4, 2020.

Tom’s son was my student. He was more of a humanities kid, but did fine in two courses. His final project for an elective, Combinatorics, was a nicely presented bijection between parenthesization and Dyck Paths (Catalan). He was also a standout in the Drama Club, but my role there as “advisor” was less than minimal. Carmen (and Lillie) were really in charge.

But there were parent-teacher conferences. I met Tom and Hillary several times. I knew they were progressives, some sort of activists, but not much more.

When I heard of his passing, I looked him up. I was stunned. Tom was a housing activist, whose work affected many. I will not summarize – instead I implore you to read this memorial/obituary. Take a moment to look at how young he was. But please read – Tom strove to make a difference for renters in New York City – and he sometimes succeeded.

Reading this article a year ago (the tab is still open. Bad habit, I know, but I have periodically returned to read more) I was amazed that I had met such an activist, but had not thought to ask him about his work. It was the wrong feeling, I know, but I felt sorry for myself, for not having learned from him.

I tweeted – and got an unexpected reply:

Lazar was referring to the work I have been involved in, trying to increase representation/diversity at my high school. We first met when Lazar visited the UFT Specialized High School Task Force (I was cochair), and stayed in contact after that work stalled, as I fashioned proposals specific for my school.

So here I was, taken aback by the great work Tom Waters had done, stunned by the death of someone my age.

But there was more. I had decamped to Essex County, New York. I had run away. I was desperately trying to teach. I was worried by my union’s tepid response to a serious matter. I was enraged by Cuomo and de Blasio’s recklessness. I was exhausted. I was trying to function as chapter leader. Every day I was learning new technology. The news was frightening, and relentless. I had already lost a faculty member (car accident) and another member of our small staff. I was overwhelmed. I had not had time to process this, any of it.

And so there I was taken aback by the great work Tom Waters had done, stunned by the death of someone my age. And I read Lazar’s words. And couldn’t believe that this guy who I was regretting not talking to had actually thought highly of me. And for the first time since the pandemic hit, I cried.

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