It takes a village, and Jim Barlow was a part of mine. A little over twenty years ago, I remember leaving the first class I had with him, convinced he was off his rocker, but intrigued enough to know I’d be back. It’s that last part that was Jim’s victory with me as a teacher. By then, I had already figured out the bare minimum that I needed to do to pass with decent grades, and showing up wasn’t generally part of the equation. High school was a hoop I was jumping through, even though there was no real trajectory beyond it. I appreciated Jim Barlow when I was in high school because he was the one person who forced me to stop and evaluate the status quo.
Jim taught me the difference between a diploma and an education. One is a piece of paper you get for sitting in a brick room, and one is valuable for a life, and it takes your entire life to obtain. To be fair, he called me out several times on my (lack of) attendance in most of my classes my senior year. He had checked up on my credits when I told him I had enough credits to graduate. He made sure to stay after me to get me to the classes I needed, but seemed to understand about the others. Even to the point that when I misses class and stayed on campus, more than a few times, I could have been found sitting in the back of his classroom, listening to whatever course he was teaching at the moment.
Jim introduced me to Kahlil Gibran and Thomas Mann. He taught me to approach life with curiosity and compassion, and told me more than once in his very corny way to go make the world better somehow, in whatever way made the most sense to me. He taught me how to intelligently and respectfully question the world around me. He taught me how to think critically. In his words, he “taught me how to think”. Not ever what to think, persay, but how. He taught me to approach life with humor. He modeled a joie de vivre which was and still is enviable. Many of these lessons stayed below the surface for me, especially early on. But they were always there.
Barlow was one of the only people who encouraged me to apply to college, and encouraged me to apply for scholarships along with it. He convinced me to apply for a few “dream schools” along with the more practical ones. He read and edited my essays. He believed I shouldn’t make a choice based upon how much money I had stashed away for school (which was basically none).
I imagine Jim was one of the people who led me quietly to teaching, and to sustainability work, and to promoting food security. I can’t ever imagine having the impact as a teacher that he had in his lifetime, but I certainly have tried, and imagine I will again. The biggest lesson Jim taught me was that I should have an impact in some way, no matter how large or small it may be.
No one lives forever, but heroes are not ever supposed to die. In a way, I suppose that Jim won’t. He’s still around in all the lives he has touched, including mine. I don’t think I ever properly thanked him for the impact he had. I wish I could thank him in person now. The world needed Jim. It still does.
Thank you for wrapping your wisdom in wit. Thanks for believing in me, and in so many of my friends. Thank you for not putting up with my crap (at least when it was unjustified crap). Thank you for inspiring me and making me laugh — even to this day. I feel so blessed to have crossed paths with you. Safe journey, my friend. Give my love to Wolf and Fang, and kick Rolf for me. I hated that dog.