Several years ago, former NY Times war-correspondent, Chris Hedges, wrote a beautiful article on Reverend Coleman Brown, an undergraduate professor who profoundly impacted Chris’ work and life. His article deeply resonated with me, not so much because of Reverend Brown himself, who was an unbelievable human being, but due to the strong resemblance between their relationship and the one I had, and continue to have, with my college mentor and dear friend, Prof. Timothy Stroup.
I’m often at a loss for words when I talk about Tim, as I’ve never met anyone quite like him, before or again. To say that Tim profoundly impacted me would be an understatement, as it would be for his other beloved students. When I transferred over to John Jay College to begin studying Forensic Psychology, I wanted to hold on to my love of philosophy, despite the fact that my general requirements for philosophy courses were completed. So, as a way to prolong my studies in a field I loved, I decided to take one final philosophy course, Tim’s course on Ethics and Law, and it changed a core part of my very being; an existential turn of course, if you will.
When I met Tim, I was deeply involved in the libertarian movement and their farfetched conspiracies; I was so sure of my views, even as I doubted my abilities, and while I had little faith in my capacity for success, I was absolutely certain of my ridiculous political and cultural beliefs. In his article, Chris remarked, “He (Rev. Brown) taught me how to think. And in being taught how to think, I was taught how to be free.” Looking back on my education with Tim, I can’t think of a more apt description of my learning and his teaching.
Tim often used to joke that he and I disagreed on just about everything; and, yet, he never treated me any differently from the students who shared his positions. He afforded me the time and the space to express myself, and challenged my views with a kindness and gentleness that can only be possessed by a great sage. Rather than criticize me, Tim criticized my beliefs, stating that he only wished for me to be more well-rounded. With Tim, it was different; it wasn’t as important for him that I agree as it was for him that I consider the evidence, and in that respect, Tim indeed taught me how to be free. I was, in essence, free from the chains of unexamined ideology.
Through him, I learned about the importance of true analysis, regardless of where it took you. His class, and our talks with one another, were the catalysts for free-thinking, not the faux version which I partook in before. And it was through him that my doubt and my certainty shifted; my doubt in my positions increased, as my doubt in myself declined. In college, and because of Tim, I began to achieve something I never thought I’d ever be able to possess: confidence in myself and my intellectual abilities. I learned that what was important was not what I believed and what I knew, but my willingness to scrutinize my beliefs in light of contradicting information; what was important was the willingness to continue to learn. I knew then that intellectual value was intertwined with empiricism and the willingness to be wrong.
Tim has been a great many things to a great many people, but to me, the most important is being my teacher. Every boy, as he becomes a man, needs a great mentor, and I had never had one until I met Tim. For the rest of my life, I’ll always recall the great afternoons spent at his home with his wife, Alice, and their dog Bella, as well as his other students; I’ll always remember that sense of peace as we discussed the pressing political issues of the time, as well as our own personal lives. He’d probably laugh if you were to call him a genius, but a genius he’s always been to me. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s cared as much about others as Tim does, and I don’t think I ever will again.
Throughout our lives, our wisdom and our kindness ripples out, as our thoughts and our deeds are passed on to others, extending our time in this world far beyond the length of our sentient lives. If Tim were to look back on his work, I’m sure he’d be happy to learn of the vast extension of his remarkable life, one that will ripple out for many decades to come.
Somewhere it was said that one’s possessions aren’t an indicator of a life well-lived, but that one’s deeds are; and because of Tim’s lessons, I know now what a well-lived life truly encompasses.