Teaching, they say, is the art of planting trees, the fruit and shade of which others enjoy.
For nearly three decades Leon Arksey planted trees at Seattle Pacific. He is dead now, savaged by a disease he contracted, it is thought, from asbestos insinuating itself into his lungs during home-repair projects.
I spent some time with Leon just before Christmas, knowing that he was in the throes of that terrible and waning illness. We were able to worship together on that snowy Sunday, to sit at table chatting as we devoured another of Laura’s elegant meals accompanied by vigorous conversation … about everything, including politics and religion.
As we have so often done over the years, we began to say poems aloud with each other … mainly those by our mutual favorite W.B. Yeats … joyously and with boyish abandon. In that brief moment, the realities of time and mortality took a back seat to the magic and the ministry of language.
Hampered now by the weight of grief and gratitude, I can’t do full justice either to my mentor or to the language he spent a lifetime embracing, but to honor him I offer this for the man we called teacher.
If a poet’s death is kept from his poems, then
A teacher’s departure does not touch his lessons;
Modest nuggets of insight which seem to shine,
Indifferent to passing time and fleeting fashions.
Both his lectured prose and chanted verse
Echo lovingly through skulls long since grayed;
While that measured voice of sense and sensitivity
Inspires long after our innocence was betrayed.
Eyes that masked intensity through assuring calm,
A compact frame that belied passions heroic and full;
Modesty, patience, care, precision, balance, joy …
Beatitudes of a life lived happily and lived whole.
He disappeared after a time of stark, mortal clarity,
Man of enduring Spring, of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
— James Matthews, SPC Class of ’64