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Remembering Cedric Smith – Larry Woiwode

I want to talk a bit about Cedric Smith.

Cedric was enrolled in my Contemporary American Literature class last fall and sat near the front, curious in a manner that kept him attentive, swanky and well-dressed, often wearing a porkpie, snap-brim hat.

He sat at the head of several basketball players and other athletes enrolled in the class. He had been one of the stars on the basketball team the year before and now was a student coach, dapper in a suit and tie on the pre-game floor, feeding basketballs to the players in their series of warm-ups, speaking to them in a tone that spectators in the stands couldn’t hear.

But it was obvious he knew the players well…

and was encouraging and cheering them on, a tall presence in a dark suit and white shirt and tie that drew one’s attention – the distinguished poise of a seasoned athlete in the heavenly state of himself for any who wanted to watch.

I saw him close-up twice a week…

Tuesday and Thursday, when he sometimes stared at me with an expression that bordered on vexed disbelief. The contemporary novelists covered were Cather, Maxwell, Nabokov, Bellow, Roth, Updike, and Sherman Alexie. The breadth and diversity may have vexed him and when he spoke up it seemed he was speaking for the athletes arrayed behind.

One day he said, “Why don’t you do Power Point,” and from behind came a chorus of Yeah!

I explained, as I often do, that Microsoft developed its apps for business, and recent research had shown that unless you used only three or four brief statements on each slide, and said exactly what each said, confusion could occur—pared-down facts good for business that weren’t so great for teaching literature. I added that further research proved that the best way to communicate knowledge, not facts or statistics, was to face those you were teaching, as Socrates and Jesus did, and speak directly to them.

“But I like Power Point,” he said, followed by Yeah!

So I did some Power Points, one whole novel of Power Points.

I had been seeing Cedric every Tuesday and Thursday, but as basketball season began, his attendance grew more casual. The telling incident was his absence at the final. I ran into him in the hall a while afterward, and said, “Cedric, where were you? You missed the final!”

“I got to talking to a coach,” he said,” and the time got away from me. I’ll make it up.”
“You can’t. It’s a university rule or stricture – you have to be present for the final or that’s it.”
“What kind of place is this that you can’t take a test you missed!”
“Cedric, this was the final. Talk to some instructors you know better than me about that.”

He came to me later, sheepish, and wondered if there was any way I could somehow allow him to maybe take that final. I suspected my literature course was the only one he had taken, meaning it was a necessary requirement for him to graduate that spring, and because of his changed manner, I let him take a restructured final in my office. He did a decent job on it.

The next fall, I heard of his death.

Because of his mature and settled presence in the heavenly state of himself that gathered followers, I had taken him to be in his thirties. The news of his death brought the further shock that he was twenty-three. I measured him by what I saw of him, and I heard further dimensions added in a service of remembering held in the chapel one evening. This added to the shock of loss.

I was in a daze a day.

And then a dim memory came – something about lives fulfilled that I had seen somewhere. I found it in the Book of Isaiah, in a passage about New Jerusalem: “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old.”

A semblance of peace settled in.

Cedric’s life was fulfilled, lived out to the full. He had reached the maturity of one hundred years.

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Posted:January 27, 2017


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