March 11, 2014

On Wonder

My cousin-once-removed Charles H. Swift passed away on Friday. When he retired back in 2002, he'd been a teacher for 35 years, much of it spent as a beloved teacher in the Lubbock Independent School District. In these final weeks of his illness, I loved seeing the parade of student tributes on his Facebook page, and the snapshots (such as this one) contributed by colleagues on the countless trips Charles led to any of the 68 countries he visited. 

We spoke for the last time on a January snowy night while I was at the Millay Colony, dependent on the static-ridden land line stretching the miles to his Texas hospital room. He told me to visit the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; he teased me for not having my New York Times piece in print already ("I'm on kind of a tight timeline, here," he said, chuckling). In another world, we could have been very close; it's odd to realize he'd dedicated his life to fostering the exact kind of nerd-child I grew to be in northern Virginia, attending Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. He always brought around his rock collection, his carved-wood canes and pens; at my grandmother's funeral, he told stories about smuggling snakes. He will be missed. It is what it is, and he departed this earth knowing he was deeply loved. That said, these losses are irreversible, and I haven't felt like being on the internet as of late. 

But oh, a reason--a reason Charles would love--looms: I gotta tell you about this thing coming up. On Tuesday, March 18, I am bringing Brian Jay Jones to the Arts Club of Washington, to talk about his biography of Jim Henson. Yes, THE Jim Henson, a.k.a., the man who gave us the best characters of Sesame Street, The Muppets Show, The Fraggles, Dark Crystal, and so on. A man who said, “The most sophisticated people I know--inside they are all children." A man who actually got his start while a teenager in Hyattsville, Maryland, showcasing his young imagination on Washington-area stations (Jones will be sharing rare, archival video clips). Brian's behind-the-scenes journal of writing the biography, posted here, reveals a sensibility that is funny, humble, and very attentive to detail, all of which is reflected in this incredible book. I can't imagine a better event to raise your spirits or mine. This event starts at 7 PM (details here), and is free and open to the public; please join us, and spread the word. The Arts Club is at 2017 I Street NW DC, convenient to metered street parking. See you there?

I can't even wrap my arms around how much I love the Muppets; their bright colors, their silly songs, their bodies at once specific and abstract, their unapologetic curiosity, and O yes, their sense of wonder. There was never a sense, behind the puppet or in the moment, of talking down to one's audience--even when skimming across the surface of a vast pool of knowledge and humor. And that makes me think of Charles H. Swift. 


Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Sandra.

Steve Rogers said...

My condolences. What a very sweet piece. SallyAnn and I love the Muppets, even more so as we watched them through our son Ian's eyes (he is just a few months younger than you). Thanks for sharing this. It is not easy being green, but we keep trying! Steve