Neil Was Contagious

By Deb Cowen

Neil was contagious. His bright smile and devilish eyes were the storm troopers for a heart of enormous proportions. Once in the 1970s in London, doctors did in fact diagnose Neil with a gargantuan heart. But most of us experienced Neil’s heart in less corporeal ways. Neil loved, Neil gave, and Neil inspired. Talking to his students, colleagues, and comrades since his passing helps to render this organ’s shape and size. Over and over I hear of the magic. His students especially describe the confidence Neil inspired in them. He saw them, or their capacity, their potential. He held their energy and nurtured it while it was tentative and fragile to make it strong. Kierkegaard once described Socrates as a teacher who gave the greatest thing that can be passed from mortal to mortal. He described Socrates as midwife who could help an-other deliver what was in them. In this gesture there is generosity, wisdom, and courage, but the midwife only ever facilitates what is already in the other. Neil has clearly given us tons. But his magic is a relation not a commodity. He has written enough to inspire profanities. He has mentored half a discipline. He has grown beautiful gardens. But his most precious gift is not the things he made but the dialogue he fostered. Neil’s work – his words and deeds – were most powerful when they at once pushed us hard and held us steady. Many of us disagreed with Neil. Frequently. Profoundly. But in disagreeing with Neil we also found our way.

Lets resist the consumerism of idolatry. If Neil gave us beautiful things, lets exercise not worship them. Lets continue the engagement with justice, and passion, and love where we met him. Lets keep fighting for the people, the street, the block, the city, and not the nation-state. Lets keep stepping up and taking account of our own complicated complicity with the violence of our present. And lets keep creating more loving futures. Lets commit ourselves to growing the beautiful things that Neil noticed in us, and the ones he didn’t but that we would convince him he should see.

–October 5, 2012, Toronto

One comment to “Neil Was Contagious”
  1. Pingback: Neil Smith (1958-2012) | Warszawa w budowie 4. Miasto na sprzedaż

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