Saying Goodbye to the Best Teacher I Ever Had

I never met the man. The closest I ever came was a few hundred feet away in what is now the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center. He had a quiet way about him, but there was no denying the fierce, loving, energy beneath it all. His fellow folk artists, those who sang of justice, like Arlo Guthrie, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, Mary Travers, and Joan Baez, just to name a few, were my Sunday Church growing up (I know I have mentioned this before.) Pete Seeger was my Pope.

It was listening to Pete sing and speak that formed so much of my morality. It was simple in the face of complex issues without being naive. He saw and sang of a world that we all shared in peace. He imagined a world where we all just decided to put our weapons down and say “no more.” No more war, no more greed, no more hatred, no more despoiling our Good Mother Earth in the name of mindless “progress.”

He did more than that though. He did not just share with us this vision. He was not content to get us to talk about these things, though he knew how important that was. He encouraged us to get up and organize. He urged us to stand up together and be heard, not just amongst ourselves, but by the powerful who have done so much harm in their recklessness. He did this not just by telling us we needed to, but leading by example, getting out there and doing the hard work of it himself.

It is not an exaggeration to state that most of us who have thrown our hats into the activism ring the past fifty or so years owes some part of that decision to Pete, even if we did not realize it. If you never heard of him, chances are, someone you know has, and many of your fellow social justice champions can cite him as an influence. If you are in the community of activists long enough, his name will come up, and I hope sooner rather than later, because I would hate for you to miss out. The people who have recruited you, trained you, and sent you out to make the world a better place have been touched by him, if for no other reason than those that did the same for them were influenced by Pete.

We will miss this man, even those who are only learning of him today. We will miss him, but we will move on, and keep up his good work because “we are not afraid.” I mourn for our loss but celebrate a life that gave so much to so many. I celebrate a mind that could view all mankind as his brothers and sisters. I leave you know with the lyrics of my favorite song of his. Maybe one day this dream will come true…

Last night I had
the strangest dream
I’d ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world
had all the greed
to put an end to war

I dreamed I saw
a mighty room
the room was full of men
and the paper they
were signing said
“we’ll never fight again.”

And when the paper
was all signed
and a million copies made
they all joined hands
and bowed their heads
and grateful prayers were prayed

and the people in
the streets below
were dancing round and round
and swords and guns
and uniforms
were scattered on the ground

Goodbye my good teacher.

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