Remembering the Erie Canal

I’m terrified to write this post.

Less than a month ago, I had one of the most powerful moments of my adult life with this man, a moment that I knew would be one of the stories I would tell for years to come. I wrote a post that I felt would convey the respect and love I had for my teacher, as often it’s too late before someone knows the impact they’ve had on us. 


I’ve sat in front of my screen for the last 3 days, employing every nerve in my fingers to function and force the reality to take shape and recognize this loss as more than just a nightmare.

One of the greatest men I have ever known is gone.

I won’t meet him on the canal. Bump into him at the Farmer’s Market. Find him at one of the many village events. I can’t call him and ask him to coffee, muse over teaching, seek wisdom from decades of experience.

Our community has been shaken to the core by this news. And I am sure that you, too, are wondering how great a man and loving a soul could not feel the warmth and admiration of his thousands of fans. Those of us who had the honor to sit in his class or teach alongside him cannot fathom “why.”  And though we will never know, it is not our question to ask. 

The last words Mr. Southworth spoke to me were this: “Kiddo, in life there are problems that are unsolvable, but we do the best we can.” 

This is one of those problems.

Rather than seek answers that will never come, I choose to remember the man who spread joy to every person he knew, and to follow his advice and do the best I can. 

I choose now to teach every day with his image and influence in mind, telling his stories and sharing him with everyone I meet. 

He told me that night on the Erie Canal that I was a writer. He knew I was a writer in 4th grade, and he asked me why I wasn’t writing books and published yet. He urged me to write, for real, somewhere else than this personal little corner of the Internet.  

But Mr. Southworth, this little corner of the Internet is dedicated to you. Here, your memory will be written and shared and mourned and missed. You cannot ever know the impact you have had on my life, and will continue to have as I grow old. You had an innate understanding of your students, and long before we could recognize the importance teachers have in our lives, you made us feel special and loved. We will grieve this loss indefinitely, but you can be sure that your legend will be one of light and love – the true reflection of how you lived. And now when I take to the Erie Canal, it will be your words that resonate in my mind, and I will continue to attempt to solve the unsolvable because you gave me the courage and passion to do so. 

Tomorrow I start my selfish Christmas indulgence of teaching my students the magic behind It’s a Wonderful Life. Clarence is right – “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” 

We can never know the demons our friends fight when we aren’t looking. We cannot know the sadness and pain that they feel during very dark hours. But we can reach out often to those whom we love, and to make everyone we meet feel as important as he made us feel. Let us not sorrow in vain, but take action and learn from this to help heal those who are still suffering.  By doing this, his memory will continue to teach and to help, and his untimely passing will serve a much greater purpose. 

To his family and loved ones, my profound sadness and sorrow for your loss. Our thoughts and love are with you during this most difficult time. 

In honor and loving memory of Wilson Southworth –  teacher, mentor, friend. 

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    1. There can be no greater tribute than the one you shared with all of us. Thank you.

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