Monday, September 19, 2005

Ah, What a Lovely Fragrance

Everybody dies. And as William Wallace said, not everyone truly lives. From what I can gather Maxine R. Baker truly, wonderfully, and graciously lived. She has created ripples that move outward even now, touching others in ways that proponents of chaos theory would support. You know, like the butterfly whose wings end up creating the wind storm thousands of miles away. I attended her memorial service last week. Her daughter, ‘Little’ Maxine, is a dear friend of many decades. Her mom was an extraordinary presence on this planet for ninety years.

I met her the first time over thirty years ago. I was a young musician, recently dropped out of law school and substitute teaching to pay the rent and feed myself. I lived for my art, for sound, being connected to universal rhythm through my drum circles and band. Teaching was something easy to do, get the kids quiet through some ‘song and dance act’ and ‘beat’ some information into their heads.

The fact that I was very young, had an Afro-to-die-for and wore jeans to class helped me be popular with the kids. The fact that I actually knew some stuff about a variety of subjects and knew how to present it got me connected to a school near my house. The vice-principal told me after my first day that I had a permanent substitute position a twenty minute walk from my house. Couldn’t beat that with a stick, right? I planned on charming my way through the days, occasionally dropping some knowledge on classrooms full of junior high kids.

The third day I was there this fiery but very well mannered woman cornered me on a stairway and dressed me down for my comportment, my lack of professionalism. She demanded that I act responsibility and actually teach.

“I see you young man, acting all cool and being the children’s friend. You are not here to be popular, you are here to teach, to hand down knowledge, and, more importantly, to give the children an example. So, act your age and behave like you have some sense in that fine head of yours. You are smart, intelligent, and gifted. Show them the way like I’m sure others have shown you.”

She was scolding me like I was gonna be taken to the woodshed if I didn’t follow her instructions to the letter. I lowered my head and said, “Yes, ‘mam.”

In a sense I have been saying ‘yes ‘mam’ in some way to her ever since we crossed paths. Her service was memorable, emotional, joyous, a testament to a life well lived. I believe we only take that aspect of ourselves people call ‘integrity’ to our graves. The memories stay with those we leave behind. The impact of our lives can be, like the minister mentioned in Maxine’s eulogy, “like the scent of someone’s perfume, still in the room after that person has left the room!”

Like fine perfume, Big Max’s fragrance lingers, carried in the memories and actions of all who were lucky enough to have been influenced by her. She was, and always will be, an inspiration to always do your best. You never know who is following in your footsteps.

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