The first question he ever asked me
was whether I knew why the word “school”
derives from the Greek word for “leisure.”
I didn’t, but he spent the next four years
teaching me why.
My parents sat with me in orientation
when he told us that no student
would be given an A in his class.
He is the reason why,
the summer I turned seventeen,
I argued with a graduate student
at another university
about Winston Churchill’s My Early Life
and the Boer War.
He once asked a group of us,
“What is the whatness of an acorn?”
And we were his smirking intelligence
when someone finally answered, “A tree.”
He is the late nights spent with John Locke,
early mornings with Machiavelli,
daily life with Plato and Aristotle.
He is the printed report card
my freshman year
sitting on top of my dad’s newspaper —
proof that I had, in fact, earned an A-
in his class.
He is the way we read,
understand, feel in our very marrow
what it all means:
to be political (social) animals,
to be men and women,
to be Americans,
to be human beings.
He, in his leather jacket and striped button-up,
cowboy boots resting on a desk
littered by Xenophon, Ellison, Lincoln,
laughing with his entire body
and believing with his entire soul.
The last question I’ll ever ask him is,
Do you know?
Do you know what it meant to me,
to us, and to everyone
who has ever had the pleasure
of meeting you,
or of meeting us in turn?
It means everything.
You say you were born American,
but in the wrong place.
Thank God for us —
the timing of your life has been perfectly right.