death Archives - The Jose Vilson


He Lived A Long 77 Years

by Jose Vilson on August 16, 2011

in Jose

You ask me if I’m OK, and I say yes. I’m OK in the knowledge that, the day after I found out Luz and I have a baby boy awaiting in her womb, my grandfather passed. It was a Tuesday when I saw my boy’s penis through black-and-white live-action screens, exclaiming “YES!” in relief that I finally found out a whole lot more about the fetus occupying her space for the better part of four months. It rained hard that day, and, as the taxi windows clapped with the drops of water from the outside, I told Luz about the joy I felt of this tremendous undertaking, but the eerie feeling I felt at the pit of my stomach. Shortly thereafter, we called her mom, my mom (who didn’t pick up at first), and then her father. She called my mother a second time, and my mom might as well have jumped out of Luz’s cell phone receiver with her elation.

But something was off. Mom said she was made aware that my grandfather was officially off the pipes and machines keeping him alive over the last week. After she had just visited him in Miami, my mom’s father reassured her that he would eat and he would be well, words used to allay my mom’s otherwise nervous demeanor. On Wednesday, that message sat with me for a few hours. After our usual morning dialogue and reflections, I told Luz I felt like I had to visit my mother, just to reassure her. I hopped on the 2 train, and transferred to a bus that made me wait far too long.

My mother’s eyes welled up on sight, understanding what was to come. Two hours after I arrived, she got the phone call. He passed away, quietly and neatly. His six-foot 300-pound frame and powerful bass gave im a presence I could only hope to emulate in my adult life. He saw himself as a true patriarch, proud, stout, and full of vigor. Even a decade ago, he still knew how to take his Metrocard, and traverse the MTA to Washington Heights, where he partied and BSed with alligator shoes and a Kangol. Even when he lost some of his teeth, he still knew how to crack jokes and tell stories really loudly. He didn’t always have the greatest relationship with his grandchildren, often losing his charms in favor of some old fashion “I’m an adult, so what I say goes.”

As we all got older, it became easier to appreciate him after he also reflected on the attitudes he would leave behind. He didn’t want to make apologies for his life, but didn’t want to find people angered by him in the afterlife. It’s his biggest negotiation. Now on the way to Miami, we may be officially mourning his passing, but he lived a long 77 years, ones that weren’t rich monetarily, but rich in living within the means given to him. It’s hard to mourn someone who had so many moments in life to value, especially when you relate that to the life of a newborn.

He won’t be expected to fill in the shoes of the 77-year-old, but he’ll at least know that he comes from a lineage of people who lived life to the fullest. And a couple of Kangol wearing Dominicans.

Jose, who’ll be back on Thursday …


The Last Lesson I Learned from John Wooden

by Jose Vilson on June 8, 2010

in Jose

John Wooden

John Wooden

When John Wooden died, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I didn’t grow up in his era of dominance, never met him or watched him much in TV interviews, and didn’t go to school on the West coast. I assumed he was a great man by the way men like Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabbar talked about him. When ESPN anchor Neil Everett talked about John Wooden’s interview with him where he said, “My peace assures that I’m not afraid of death,” I said, “Now, I gotta watch Sportscenter to find out more about the man.”

The general sports community knows the basics. 10 titles in 12 years. First person in basketball history to get into the Hall of Fame as a coach and a player. UCLA, the team he coached, holds the record for most consecutive games won in NCAA men’s basketball history, 88 games. The numbers are astounding, and nothing to blink at. Yet, the greatest lesson he taught the world weren’t numerical, per se. Rather, it was the 18 years he went without winning one title. He won conference titles with Indiana State and UCLA during those years, but he hadn’t even seen a title until that 18th year.

From there, he got hot.

Then again, I’ve grown up at a time where the longest any coach lasts these days is 3 years, even if they constantly increase their win totals, so a coach that keeps his job for longer than a presidential term is astonishing for me. Development doesn’t matter, and longevity has no place in a multi-million dollar industry concerned with change just for change. People switch coaches at the drop of a hat, and with few exceptions, this is warranted. But none of this can bode well for any coach wanting to stay in any major sport for a while. The owners don’t care to wait for you to develop or learn how to manage the assortment of players you have now. Just get it done, drive up the numbers or else.

Sound familiar?

And John Wooden is in many ways the godfather of a generation of coaches that not only cared about the player’s athletic gifts, but also their person. He cared whether they graduated from college as much as whether they could drop a few points in a hoop, and rebounds were from personal tragedies not from a ball off a backboard. Hate to say it, but coaches like Mike Krzyzewski matter because, along the lines of Wooden, he wins with quality people and players … and Duke’s administration has given him the key to their whole program in ways others can’t.

As a young teacher, I’ve noticed that the best teachers in my building have had a decade or more in the classroom to get their minds right. Even those who told me they didn’t like their jobs to begin their career said they had a chance to change their ways and took ample room (and reflection) to do so. Wooden got that chance, too, and gave UCLA many returns for their patience.

None of his success is magic. It’s experience. And an experience we’re left with long after he relieved us of his presence.

Jose, who finds lessons wherever he goes …

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RIP Jaime Escalante, Famed Math Teacher

by Jose Vilson on March 30, 2010

in Jose

RIP Jaime Escalante

It is with regret that I report about Jaime Escalante’s passing today. He was 79. He lived his life inspiring all types of people within the education system, but with little money left to treat his terminal bladder cancer. I am amongst that number of people who he inspired through the seminal work about his work, Stand and Deliver. Certainly, I don’t base my knowledge entire on a movie starring one of my favorite actors ever (Edward James Olmos), but there’s lots to be said about the effect he had on the many of us who even caught a glimpse of his life through this movie.

Before watching the movie, I never fathomed working for others as a lifetime profession. While it still didn’t hit me that teaching was my calling (and my future profession), knowing about Jaime Escalante planted the seed that would sprout into the man I am today. He wasn’t just a model of excellent teaching, but also an integral member of an intricate system of people who sought to raise the standards for all students, one kid at a time. Changes like the ones he helped make at his school don’t come with a wave of a hand, but the work of a hammer.

Finally, let us not simply think of him in terms of his work or the movie inspired by him, but for his family and friends, who probably miss him as a man. Like many educators, general society often forgets that they actually have blood-related families as well as the ones in the classroom. As we do more research on his man of intellectual greatness, we should do more to think about ourselves and excelling in our own professions.

Salud, Sr. Escalante.

Jose, who needs to remember calculus all over again …

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No More Heroes

March 8, 2010 Jose
Superman Dies

Last week, the whole world found out that Guru a.k.a. Keith Elam of the world-renown hip-hop duo Gang Starr had (ostensibly) died of a recent heart attack he suffered the day before. Entertainment bloggers reported it. Wikipedia reported it. Celebrities who are usually in the know said it. Then, I typed up a dedication to […]

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Augmented Reality

November 22, 2009 Jose
Heath Ledger

In the latest edition of Esquire Magazine (yes, I read Esquire, at least once a year, particularly their end of the year specials), Stephen Marche has an article entitled, “A Thousand Words About Our Culture: Aren’t We Enjoying All This Death A Little Too Much?” In it, he analyzes this idea of celebrity death, its […]

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Patrick Swayze Goes Ghost (RIP)

September 14, 2009 Jose
Patrick Swayze

As many of you heard by now, sources have confirmed Patrick Wayne Swayze’s death a few minutes ago, to the shock and chagrin to many of the people who follow my writings in various information sources. While I find myself semi-numb to the idea that famous people have died left and right, I grow rather […]

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