John Gardner at Home

Memories from Ekow Yankah

Dear John,

I recently got the news about your diagnosis. I am left stunned and sorrowful that you and your family are facing this. I know you are surrounded by beloved family, friends and colleagues who will add to your own strength and wonderful view of the world. I can only imagine the countless students who are expressing their well-wishes. Failing some perfect, poetic or powerful thing to write, I hope adding to the chorus, by way of cumulative power, informs you, in some measure, of the depth of feeling so many hold for you.

I could write of my admiration for your work; it is considerable. The way I learned from your arguing or interpreting important articles, books or lines of thought. Even more, the way I learned from the way you do philosophy. You seem to always be able to deploy such sophisticated thinking without artifice and, more importantly, point out the most natural truths by seeing the world and not just the terms of the debate as they were set. I remember times when a book, a play, literature, love or sex were used as examples to make a philosophical point as natural and obvious as it could be and thinking both, “Of course.” And “That’s how you go about it…”

Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on any of those things. I just want to say thank you. You really, truly changed my life. I don’t want to be (even more) saccharine. I was lucky enough that there were good things waiting for me. But when you came to Columbia and one day mentioned that you thought I could flourish at Oxford, it freed me to pursue something I otherwise would not. There is something deeply important about why people do not allow themselves certain goals, even when reachable. And there is something incredible about someone pointing out, “Of course you should. Those people doing it are not a different kind of person than you.” I hope to talk to you about this more one day; both to more personally express my appreciation but because it is an unbelievably important thing we can do as teachers. And you did it for me.

Thank you, John. I will continue to pray for miracles.

Ekow N. Yankah