At a Zen funeral, we talk directly to the person who has left us.
Oh, Richard, thinking of you, I smile. We had so much more to do. So many memories.
I knew Digna before I knew you. She was such an integral part of the Arts of Recovery and what we were trying to do at The Verrazano Foundation to end stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illnesses.
I remember the first time, you and I spent much time together. Roshi Paco Lugovina (he was not yet a Roshi) had arranged for us to present a workshop on the Arts of Recovery at a legislative conference in Albany sponsored by the Black and Hispanic Caucus. Digna volunteered to drive our group. You came along for the ride. Digna had a new very cute Chrysler. My memory is that she got nervous driving and I ended up doing most of the driving. We laughed all the way. We found the Capitol Mall. We found our room, actually got there on time. I think only two people showed up for our workshop. They were very sweet. Back into the car for the ride home to Staten Island, I think we laughed all the way again.
You came to a Zen meditation group at Mt. Manresa. I was sure Digna had dragged you. He’s never coming back, I thought. You came for years. Every Tuesday evening, we sat together.
You became a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Lavelle Prep when we opened in 2009. That was very important to me. The mission for the school and much of the school design came directly out of our work at The Verrazano Foundation. You understood that work and mission. You were passionate about it. That was a very important connection.
Our Wellness curriculum is a cornerstone of the educational program in all of our schools. This curriculum was inspired by the Recovery Curriculum that had been developed by people living with mental illnesses so that they could teach themselves, teach each other, how to overcome the obstacles to recovery. You understood this.
When we opened, we hoped not only to provide a school in which the playing field was leveled for students living with emotional challenges and other disabilities, we hoped that we could provide opportunities for people in recovery to work in an integrated, welcoming environment. In our first year, we were able to hire two people in recovery. One of them is still with our schools.
In our second year, you helped broaden the outreach to people in recovery. A big group came to an introductory meeting. We talked with them about the opportunities in the school, to begin as Teacher Assistants, and about our first ideas for a Pathway program to becoming a teacher. A few were interested and took advantage to spend a day as an assistant in a classroom to see how it felt. I think it was too much. They weren’t ready. Others just didn’t want to take the leap into an integrated work setting.
That is a challenge that we still haven’t solved. Who is going to help us with this now?
Richard, you were always enthusiastic and a cheerleader for what we were accomplishing together at ICS. And you were never satisfied. Sometimes you were so dissatisfied, it hurt. You always wanted us to do better.
“Intelligence is additive.” How many times did I hear you say that? It is a vision which we share, although I use different words. It is the experience of our schools. How many times, out of discussion and debate, does a better than ever-existed-before idea emerge when a group of dedicated people come together to solve a problem, to overcome an obstacle, to address a challenge?
In this moment of grief and sorrow, your loss is experienced as subtraction. But I know that your gifts, your dedication, your commitment to our schools, to our students and families will remain within us and will continue to add to our schools, to all of us.
Oh, Richard, I love you.