For Tanya Cliff
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here tonight”
Jerry took a sip of water from the glass on the lectern. The hand that held his speech shook and the sheets of paper whispered like reeds in the breeze. He cleared his throat.
“My eldest brother, Eric, is according to many, and judging from the prestigious teaching awards he has won, a fabulous teacher. Part of his skill has been to involve the learner in the act of learning to such an extent that the subject learned becomes part of the learner’s life-style. Teaching and learning then become an act of love in the course of which learners reshape and rethink themselves. This reshaping does not come in a narcissistic imitation of the teacher, but in an act of self-discovery which releases and hones latent talent.”
Jerry looked up from his pages and glanced around the room, trying to catch the eyes of as many as would look at him. Some stared at the remains of food on the table, others gazed up at the ceiling or shuffled their feet.
“My second brother, Phillip, is named after our grandfather who was an outstanding professional athlete.”
A murmur of interest slid around the room. Jerry watched as several heads nodded in appreciation.
“Phillip, my brother, was a reasonably good rugby player who turned into an exceptional coach. He coached at all levels: junior high school, high school, club, junior and senior provincial, regional, the national championships, and even internationally. His teams won regularly both in leagues and play-offs at the provincial and regional level. He was also an instructor of coaches and for nearly 20 years all the area rugby coaches at Levels I and II (National Coaching Certification Program) were taught and assessed by him. In addition, he worked in administration and was the president of the provincial rugby union for 6 years.”
A soft sigh greeted these words, the letting out of a gentle breath.
“I am the third brother, the academic, the one who won scholarships and was the first of our family to go to university.”
Jerry raised his voice at this last word and, owls on a branch, the guests at the nearest table nodded their heads.
“I am also the only one to go on to graduate school and earn an MA and a PhD. Throughout my academic career I received national and international recognition for academic publications and have been an editor, an associate editor, an assistant editor, an editorial assistant, a book review editor, and a proof reader. I currently sit on 2 editorial boards in Spain, 1 in the USA, 2 in Canada. This editing has gone hand in hand with research and publishing as anyone who has consulted my books, my online Bibliography and data base, or one of my 70+ peer-reviewed articles will know.”
Jerry took another sip of water. Two tables away, the guests sat with their eyes shut, meditating. At another table, a man with a long white beard that flowed over his chest breathed deeply, head down.
“My youngest brother, Peter, is quite possibly the best of us. He is the dreamer, the poet, the writer. He has won several writing awards and has written and published 8 poetry books, 9 poetry chapbooks, and 12 short stories. Lately, he has produced a score of films and videos. He loves working in multi-media and has built two web-pages packed with audio-visual displays in which photos and videos stand beside poems in a series of expressions which he calls video poems and photo poetry.”
Jerry turned the page. He sensed a bored restlessness in the audience’s slow adjusting of body angles, in their shuffling of feet.
“My parents would have enjoyed tonight’s celebratory dinner and tomorrow’s ceremony, but unfortunately, they cannot be here. They passed away some twenty years ago. My brothers would have loved to have been present, but alas, that too would be impossible. My older brother, Eric, was still-born. Phillip and Peter died at birth.”
Heads jerked up, glazed eyes brightened. The audience sniffed as they sensed a fresh wind carrying revelation and scandal.
“Although they died in the flesh, their spirits have never left me. Eric’s spirit represents my career as a teacher: I dedicate it to him.”
Some of the guests put palm to palm in light applause.
“Phillip’s spirit represents my adventures in sport and coaching: I dedicate them to him.”
Jerry emphasized the last word and the audience responded.
“My academic and research career, for better or for worse, is my own.”
The audience clapped and one man stood, only to be pulled down by the woman beside him who tugged at his sleeve.
“Peter’s spirit represents my creative side: I dedicate my creativity to him. I have thought about the lost potential of these three brothers of mine every day of my life. Their presence has never left me. It has been a privilege to incorporate their three different spirits, personalities, and work ethics into this unique life with which I have been blessed.”
Spoons tinkled against cups.
“I would like to thank you, the members of this university community, for permitting me to work here for so long.”
A murmur of appreciation rose from the audience and body positions were again re-adjusted.
“You have given me the space and freedom to express not one, but multiple personalities and talents: researcher and teacher, athlete and coach, academic and editor, and last, but by no means least, creative artist in image and word. I would also like to thank my nominator and the Board of Governors, who unanimously approved my nomination. I look forward to receiving the honorary status of Emeritus Professor which you will so kindly confer upon me tomorrow.”
The audience, sensing an ending, stamped their feet and tapped open palms on the tables.
“In honoring me, you honor my parents and my brothers, whose spirits continue to thrive and work within me. You also honor my wife and my daughter who have played such an important role in keeping me balanced, committed, healthy, positive, productive, and, in spite of the occasional insanity of the world around me, sane. Thank you all. And to all a goodnight.”
The audience struggled to its feet and former colleagues touched Jerry’s arm as he walked from the podium back to his table. He sat down and took a sip of water. As he glanced around him, he took in the mad babble of voices, the swirls of divergent conversations, and realized, sadly, that nobody had understood, really understood, a word that he had said.