Dear Brent – I began writing this letter to you in my mind last week when I first found out that you were in the hospital. As I sent energy and love your way, willing you to pull through, I promised myself that I would share these thoughts with you one way or another. I can’t tell you how sad I am to be posting them here, rather than offering them in person.
Though I generally feel at peace with the cycle of life, I find myself heartbroken at your passing. Your death has shown me that I am so not ready for friends of my graduate school days to be dying. Not ready at all. I always imagined that Harvey would be the first to go and on some level I have been preparing myself for that heartbreak for some time now. But this, your death, I was not — ready for. Life is reminding me once again of how dear and ephemeral relationships can be.
Since I heard that you were in the intensive care unit I’ve been reviewing my memories of you and holding them close to my heart. You came into my life during our years as graduate students at the University of Alberta – a deeply formative time for me:
I remember sitting for long hours in the grad carrel area, feet up on our desks, leaning back in our chairs, discussing our most recent readings about Arne Naess and Deep Ecology. We were earnestly trying to articulate and write something meaningful about our evolving ecosophies. So much so that at one point, we had over 20 pages printed off the dot matrix printer sitting in front of us! In a good way, it seemed there was no end in sight to these deliberations. Though we were unsuccessful, at that time, in terms of writing an article, the journey itself was well worth the time we put in. And the thoughts we generated have lived richly in both our lives as we evolved into the (somewhat) adult beings we have come to be – deeply connected and committed to the natural world.
I remember sitting on your back deck talking about our inner wilderness and the way that wildness itself moved in and through our lives. What would we do with our “one wild and precious life”, we asked ourselves? So when I see the photos that others have posted recently I see this joy of being you embody and I remember too our co-facilitating Spring Camp and you teaching me to glissade!
I remember you as the first person with whom I began to truly ponder the power of hegemony and how unconscious cultural patternings affect our lives. And, more importantly, I recall our thoughts about how we would try to actively challenge them! This was an early call for me to a lifelong commitment to staying awake in a culture that wants us to be unaware and asleep to its machinations.
I remember when I left to take on a position at Lakehead University and managed to burn myself out in record time. Fortunately, I was introduced to email that year and you were the first person I reached out to, sharing my thoughts about feeling overwhelmed with work and my thoughts about leaving. I admit to not believing I could simply press the send button and the message would travel through cyberspace to you. Not only did it, but you responded within minutes! I remember smiling a mile wide just knowing you were out there. You listened, and reminded me to follow my heart. And if I did leave, you teased that you’d be happy to take my place! In fact, that is exactly what happened :). Though following my heart, I felt badly about leaving students with whom I had developed meaningful connections, so I felt deeply relieved in hearing you had gotten the position, as I knew how positively and profoundly you’d impact future students. Your commitment to students’ well being and growth is like no other!
I remember that you taught me to take life less seriously :). And, in the spirit of one of our favorite Arne Naess quotes, “the road to enlightenment is paved by hypocrisy”, you helped me laugh at myself when I couldn’t meet my vision. I believe we taught each other something about living with deep integrity, as well as challenged one another to be the best educators we could be. From your early explorations of veganism, to your roles as grad student, TA, taxi driver, wilderness guide, outdoor educator, and university prof, you are the one who most taught me that how we do what we do is as important as what we do – that it’s really about the journey.
I remember that whenever I attempted in those grad school years (however awkwardly!) to share how you inspired me, you just laughed it off. Deep humility was another of your traits. Now I get to say it again – you have served as unrivaled inspiration, Brent Cuthbertson, to me and so many others. Though gone in the physical world, you truly live on in our hearts.
I admit too to feeling a bit envious on occasion. You stuck to traditional university professorship when I couldn’t seem to. I’ve always been a bit of an oddball (there you go laughing again!!) When others settled in and dug down roots, I moved along. For the most part, I’ve come to understand this part of myself and see myself as a traveling peace pole – helping to awaken and create bridges between the consciousness worker bees who want to change the world. With all this moving around I sadly haven’t stayed in touch over the years as I now realize I would have liked to. Yet I have managed to connect once in a while, to hear news of you from others, and have come across your name in print, or the occasional photo on social media and have smiled to know you are out there too – doing your part to change the world for the better.
If you were here now, Brent, I’d share with you the three words that encapsulate my current ecosophy – to be love – and you, you would gently shake your head at me and laugh a little bit. From 20 pages of scattered thoughts to just three words: So simple and yet so complex we turn out to be.
But you are not here now and so as I offer up these words, I also send you off with a song that I sing to all creatures, big and small (two and four legged!) who pass out of my life. I am so, so grateful that you chose to pass my way for even a short time…
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you,