A Tribute to Mr. Bear O’Bryan

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour. — William Blake, Auguries of Innocence


Bear O’Bryan, my colleague and friend, provided for all of us a sacred space in a secular world, a sanctuary of stillness in our otherwise non-stop days. We keep the best of him alive when we give ourselves permission to enter that silence, when we allow ourselves the time to process our thoughts so that our true voices emerge. This is how we practice tikkun olam, a Hebrew belief that each of us can “repair the world” by being present to the vast openness, by listening, by speaking truth to power, by honoring the sacred in ourselves and in the everyday.   — Michele Surat


Bear was a gift.  His generosity of spirit touched the lives of countless students and teachers who learned to see themselves through his eyes – eyes that looked for and found beauty and possibility in everyone.  He taught us we could accomplish anything if we were willing to be our best selves.  — Celie Boswell


Details come to mind and an image settles there:  the flowing hair, the khaki shorts, the soft voice, the keen eye, the darkened room, the music, the lamps, the quilts, the sketches, and Marilyn. It is a composite that hardly captures the essence of the man.  He was unconventional, open and divergent, steadfast, tenacious, tender.  Like the Transcendentalists he admired, he found solace in simple things, celebrated free expression, lived deliberately.  Listened sincerely. Will be missed dearly. — Lisa Williams


Bear’s greatest gift was his intuition, and it was a gift he used wisely. He may have been soft-spoken, but his impact on our lives and the classroom is much more of a roar.  He was my mentor, my friend, and my hero.  I am so thankful for having had the chance to know him, and my world has become a little darker with his absence.  — Kerry Sheppard


Bear knew the difference between the still, quiet essence of things–and people–and the noise and flash of glossy surfaces.  Courier is an honest font. It does not conceal a lack of substance; it gives each word space to breathe.  Bear gave each of us space to breathe, but he also gave us an example of a man who knew what mattered and lived a life consistent with his values. He had figured it out and trusted us to do the same.  — Janet Spencer


My Personal Anthology title my junior year was “Girls: The journey of one boy into the minds of an entire gender.”  I thought I was funny.  Never mind the agreement error (which Mr. O’Bryan kindly let slide), but to be honest, when the anthology assignment was laid out I just didn’t quite take it seriously.  I was fifteen years old, and figured the best way to spend my year would be to explore something that was constantly on my mind anyway – I thought I was taking the easy way out.

Little did I know that I was taking precisely the path he had designed the project to take me down.  What began as a flippant, juvenile endeavor turned into one of the most transformative experiences of my life, and the anthology, in conjunction with the time I spent in the Bear Cave that year, ended up defining who I was as a young adult navigating his way through the world.  To be sure, there was plenty of emo-driven angst in my entries.  I can only imagine, for example, what Mr. O’Bryan thought when reading one in which I somehow transitioned from Thoreau into a mushy treatise on the singular experience of looking deeply into my then-girlfriend’s eyes…ugh.  But at the same time, with his steady guidance and encouragement, I dug deeper and discovered meaning where I never knew it existed.  The final product touched on themes of romance, yes, but also family, cultural history, death, spirituality, and ultimately the search for metaphysical truth.

It was the same with the books we read in class, and as I would learn later in life when I became his colleague, it was the same with almost any interaction with Mr. O’Bryan.  In such an unassuming way he demanded the best from you, not because of any judgment on his part, but because his mere presence somehow made you aware of trajectories of thought and reflection that hadn’t been accessible before.  His essence was magical in this way, and if there’s anything I’ve realized over the past two weeks it’s that that essence is still very present – in his classroom, in the halls of the school, and in all of us.  The challenge for us, as we move forward from this ordeal, is to not forget to continue to tap into it.— John Piersol

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