“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

December 16, 2010

Another successful semester accomplished. A better one than the last and looking forward to even better ones next year. Not perfect, but always striving for the best. Writing these words makes me reflect on what it is that I define as success. For me, in the past, simply having a lowrider meant success. A couple of months ago, while cruising in the Monte Carlo down at Fisherman’s Wharf, a Ferrari pulled up next to me. We were both stopped parallel at the red light. People walked by and scoped us out. To me, they offered a thumbs-up; to the Ferrari, they planted a thumbs-down 🙂 That incident captures the icing on the cake as far as materialistic success for me, personally, is concerned. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate some of the finer things in life, but my point here is that now I have reached a level that is beyond whatever it was that I initially set out to do. As far as materialistic success is concerned, I have worked for and been blessed with enough. A red Monte Carlo lowrider is more than enough.

Today, success means something more to me. Now at the end of this semester I know even more of what I need to do. For me success is about helping people reach their full potential. Part of it is that I must share to students all of my educational secrets. I don’t want to hide the ball, but I don’t want to give the ball away either. I want to instill in them a desire for challenge and inquisitiveness. I must train students to sustain themselves in a hostile educational environment for their next two to four to six years, but they should also learn something about life. I cannot simply imagine that my students will be life-long full time academics. One day they will graduate, and they will have to practice their education with many different types of people, not just other scholars. In some ways academia can hinder them from this because it is very structured, predictable: write four out-of-class essays and three in-class ones. The real world does not give us the luxury of a grade as a marker for our success.

Part of success is imagining and creating interesting challenge. Success for me is an embracing of and smiling at the hard stuff. Our world is changing. I have been writing and talking about this for a long time, but I believe that in this society it is our duty to constantly re-invent ourselves for the betterment of ourselves and our society. The United States of America will never return back to the way our mothers or fathers had it. We must get ready for the new world, and we must do that by embracing a flexible identity that respects our past and readies us for outerspace!

It has been a great year, one of the hardest, most challenging years of my life. I have come to accept and re-accept that my purpose and success on this Earth is to love. I may be a linguistically intelligent man, but it is emotion that people treasure. It is emotion that is true power and happiness. Mind alone cannot get us to success. Mind or materialism, even in conjunction, cannot motivate us to go to beyond the stars, to go beyond what we can see. It is emotion that helps us desire, and the greatest desire is love. I am not ashamed to admit that love is the greatest gift I can receive or offer another human being. I do not want to sound as if love is soft like a teddy bear. On the contrary, love is hard and dangerous. We all know that being so generous with this most precious asset can leave us vulnerable. We know that some people see love as a weakness.

But I will not worry that some can take advantage of my loving generosity. I vow to freely give love, even though I may be abused or misunderstood. I tip my hat to anyone who gets a benefit from my kindness, but I believe there are more good people than evil people in the world; therefore, generosity will be rewarded and will spread to better this world. My point here is that I learned this semester that I must give even more of my most powerful self. And if I crack like an egg, then so be it. As Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

June 22, 2008

For James Jeffrey Bac Sierra, November 10, 1968 to June 16, 2008

Thank you for coming.

Never again. Never again. One in a million, baby. Here lies greatness, royalty. Yet not a conceited royalty, but a genuine King of Kings. No purple robe for him. No, he took off his shirt and his bare tattooed skin was finer than any shiny silk. No fancy gold crown; the scars on top of his head were his crown of glory. Proud. You will never know a prouder man. If he said two plus two equals four were wrong, he would stick to that and you might end up believing him by the end of your conversation.

After I broke the news to my children, who he loved more than himself, I asked them what they remembered about Uncle Jeff. My daughter, Margarita, took a minute because she wanted to reflect on his essence. Finally she looked me in the face and said he was always happy.

His love and happiness were obvious. Jeff didn’t care about being embarrassed or obnoxious. He did not hide behind “normal.” He was not ashamed of love. Love for music: turn it on and you would see a dancing Indian or a ballroom dancer or a salsero. Love for women: bring them to him and he would have them loving and longing and changed by him. Love for food: one plate was never enough. Love for spirit: regardless of what was happening in his life, Jeff always went to church and prayed with all his soul. Love for family: he hugged and kissed us. Love for brothers: all of you were his brothers, and he might have been in your face shouting or offering you a beer, but all that you knew is that here is a man filled with amor. Love for all: a homeless can collector, a family walking with their children, young kids, old women, Latino, Black, Asian, White: he did not discriminate with his love.

Super Jeff was a great man.

We are here to offer respect and encouragement to each other, but in his memory and spirit, I challenge you to something else. I challenge you to repay the greatness he shared with you. How will you repay his greatness? If you loved him, then you must prove it. Confront life. He hated normal—that was the worst garbage to him—normal. If you are gonna live, you just don’t exist. You must fight for your dignity and happiness. And so when you see a woman with a beautiful smile, you thank God for her smile—and you tell her you are doing it. When you see your homeboy in need, you don’t think about consequences or how you are going to be put out of your way. You stop what you are doing, and you take your shirt off and give it to the man—with a smile on your face.

Most importantly always tell each other “I love you.” Always tell each other I love you. Cause although you may be angry, and although you’ve tried as much as you think you possibly could, your duty from this day forward is to say the words—I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you, brother.

4 thoughts on ““There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

  1. Ben, I never would have believed that Jeffrey was gone until hearing back from you. No one told me. Your words that you speak of your brother are beautiful. I have nothing but great memories of him.

  2. Ben, your words bring me to tears yet I can’t help but smile. I was a former student and reading your strong sentences full of love has inspired me. I am young and I am not sure what my purpose in life is yet, but all that you have taught me is making my heart burn and shine with passion. Passion for my culture and my people, for self-growth, for love, for potential. You were right, words have power. I hope that one day my words can have the power that I would like them to as I try to carve my own path in life. Thank you for your inspiration and continue to move the souls of the youth.

  3. Jeff………I miss you my brother.I will never forget you bro.you are always with me even wyhen i went to trial.I’m free now and missing you wishing you were here with me and enjoying Nicaragua. Your bro Rich

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