In the workshop honoring Avon, I read a poem I wrote soon after Avon died. I was 39 years old, but had the intuition that poetry, no matter how “good” or “bad,” was a good way to descend into grief and rise up into redemption. The poem:
I remember so clearly that moment when
You discovered that my feet
were as big and ugly as yours.
rippling into laughter
as we placed them side by side.
Though our feet were the same size,
I still can’t fill your shoes.
After reading the poem, I confided that indeed I felt it as both my duty and my challenge to try to fill those shoes knowing I couldn’t. Avon had a God-given voice that sang straight to the center of the listener’s soul. I did not. Avon had a finely-tuned body that danced in the simplest gestures. I did not. Avon had an African-ancestry singing through him. I did not. How was I to fill his shoes?
But Avon also called his version—and vision—of Orff Schulwerk “The Barefoot Connection.” Since I was to continue this work barefoot, it struck me that I didn’t need to fill his shoes, which were tailored precisely and uniquely for his own feet. What was important was not to try to fit his shoes, but to keep walking down the path he trod and leave my own footprints in the places he had not yet travelled.
And that is precisely what I have done. Avon never worked in a school with kids for more than 5 consecutive years. I have for 43. Avon struggled mightily with articulating his work in words, eking out part of one book. I have written eight. Avon embodied the roots music of jazz, but never ascended those branches or considered how to make jazz accessible to kids. I have. Avon taught in four or five different countries. I’ve taught in forty-five. Avon never went to Africa. I will be going for the fifth time this summer.
And so indeed, keeping his spirit of joyful community, ritual, organic process and more alive in only the way that I know how, I believe I’ve kept his path well-swept while continuing down the places he could not yet reach. I don’t believe people will remember me after one workshop in the way they remembered him. His kind of dynamic charisma is not transferrable. But my job has never been to try to imitate it or lament that I didn’t have it. Just keep the general spirit alive and grow it in only the way I know how. And encourage those that follow me to do the same.
Everywhere I go, I feel the American celebrity worship stop people from delving more deeply into their own genius. Of course, it’s not just American, it’s a human trait to admire those dosed with some measure of greatness and admire and even idolize them. But ultimately, it’s not the point. Their greatest gift is to show us our own hidden greatness and inspire us to claim it. It’s easy to just fawn and whimper “They’re awesome!” It’s supremely difficult to remind ourselves to get back to work and know that the best way to honor them is to do our work better yet.
That’s what Avon was here for. And that’s how I hope we will honor his memory.