Bob was one of a kind–as much at home with his friends in Harlem as with farmers or business executives or doctors. He challenged people and saved many people’s “souls,” as I was told at his anniversary party.
He died too young at the age of 53. He had so identified with the people of Harlem that he chose not to live a lifestyle beyond their means—including a lifestyle of privileged medical attention.
He would tell the story how he would invite inner city teenagers to a farm outside the city to experience the land and to mix with an equivalent number of white teenagers who lived in the countryside.
What was amazing was that the tough inner city kids, who were up to encounters with kids with knives and guns on a daily basis in the city, were kept up all night by the sounds of owls and the rest. “Afraid they might get bit by a rabbit,” laughed Bob. The experiment showed Bob and the rest of us how relative fear can be.
When a garbage strike shut down much of Manhattan, he gave talks in which he pointed out that the garbage on Fifth avenue smelled not a bit better than the garbage in Harlem. When it comes to our garbage, we are all equal he pointed out. And he drew many lessons from this in case we might miss the point.
At the memorial mass we held for Bob at Holy Names College where he had taught summer school with us, Luisah Teish, who taught African dance on our faculty and who knew Bob from the summer programs we did together, told this story.
The day he died (not knowing about his death), she had written Bob a letter about a powerful dream she had had. In it she was in Africa surrounded by many elders (Teish is an ordained Yoruba priestess). There was one white man there too—Bob Fox. “What’s he doing here?” one of the elders asked her. “He stays; he’s one of us,” Teish replied.
Teish remembered attending Bob’s class during the summer program. “I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that he spoke in the cadence of an African drum.” Apparently he had by the end of his life become so attuned to his people that he spoke in the cadence of their drum.
Queries for Contemplation
How true is it that garbage from Fifth Avenue in Manhattan smells the same as garbage from the inner city? What are the implications of that? What does that tell us about our common humanity as distinct from class and economic privilege?
Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.