Memorial Remarks for Ken Brown
Ruthann Knechel Johansen
Ken and Viona, Chris, Katy, and Mike are our very dear friends–and the growing-up friends of our children. There was a quality in Ken–actually shared by all the Browns–of which all of us here today are the beneficiaries. It is what I consider a poetic quality, the capacity to embrace beauty, to love generously, to forgive as one resists evil, and to laugh because one does not take himself too seriously, despite the habit of taking others seriously. This poetic quality is described best by a familiar statement from the Talmud.
We do not see things as they really are, we see them as we are.”
The greatest gift of friendship is to be seen and known through the eyes and spirit of the poet, of one who loves and imagines us–and the world–through the eyes of the heart. Ken offered that gift to us every time we spoke or met... at the Boathouse, the Dam Landing, at conferences, or around our kitchen tables.
Today, as I stand still in the fleeting world peering into the gaping hole Ken’s death has opened, I understand, as in a mirror dimly, that Ken was a messenger of eternal life that co-mingles with the fleeting. His departure offers an invitation for us to live differently ourselves. In that hope, I read the words of another poet: Mary Oliver’s “Messenger.”
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium,
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture,
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.