Remembering and honoring the legacy of Athumani Brown
Reflection 1: Peace
Grief can be a black hole. All consuming emptiness that pulls in everything around it. If you give yourself over to that black hole, you can lose yourself. Grief invites you into that void. But if we remember the bright light, the warm sun that existed before the black hole, sometimes we can pull ourselves back out.
Athumani Brown was a bright light. Those who were lucky enough to know him could feel his warmth whenever he was in the room. His peaceful, kind, and empathetic nature were a gravitational force; they pulled you in and left you with an overwhelming sense of calm and positivity. As those he left behind struggle to fill the hole he left, and I reflect on the sudden and tragic loss of a truly good life, his family, teachers, principals, and friends have asked all of us to honor Athumani by living a life more like the values he embodied. This way, we can maybe all bask in the light he left rather than turning towards the dark.
Athumani, only thirteen years old, had the peaceful nature many spend their whole lives trying to reach. Perhaps it was his many visits to Peace Camp, a summer program for Baltimore city youth, or perhaps he had an innate ability to find balance and center himself, but he made everyone around him immediately feel more at ease and at peace with the world. Likely it was because of his parents and family. I had the pleasure of sharing a desk space with my colleague, friend, and Athumani’s mother, Dionn Brown. The generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness, honesty, kindness, warmth, love, and dedication demonstrated by Dionn undoubtedly molded Athu into the special person he was.
So how can those of us who were not born with this inherent peaceful nature, with this innate tendency towards peace, seek to follow in Athumani’s footsteps and lead more peaceful lives?
We must try to find balance in our daily lives. We can think of peace as our natural equilibrium. We disturb our own peace, therefore, when we lose our balance. We need to make sure we are holding each piece of ourselves with equal care — our loved ones, our careers, our hobbies. When one piece demands too much, we will trip over our responsibilities. We must take stock and rediscover that balance which will lead us again to peace.
We must realize that the only constant is change. Nothing lasts forever. This can be a comforting thought in hard times. We do ourselves an injustice, however, when we forget this fact in times of happiness and prosperity. When we expect the swiftly turning wheel of change to carry us both through good and bad, through joy and sorrow, we are reminding ourselves to be at peace with everything we cannot control.
We must view others with kindness, compassion, and empathy. We cannot be at peace when we hold our beliefs, convictions, and opinions over others’. We must always be open to learning, growing, and seeing the world from a different perspective. Sometimes it helps to get us out of our own comfort zones and view the world through someone else’s eyes.
We must also seek to see the best in other people. In the end, many of us are simply trying our best, day in, day out to lead fulfilling lives. When someone disagrees with us, cuts us off in traffic, or takes the last doughnut in the break room, let’s not allow our own self-centered thinking to rob us of our peace. We must remind ourselves that they believe strongly in their opinions too. Maybe they have an emergency they’re rushing off to. Maybe they’ve had a rough morning, and the last doughnut lifted their spirits.
We must seek to see the best in ourselves. Sometimes it’s our inner voice that we can be most at odds with. If we always see ourselves negatively, we cannot be at peace. We need to learn to appreciate our breath as we breathe deeply and recenter ourselves. We can be grateful for our lungs and the air around us and the feeling of sustained breathing. We can then extend that to being thankful for each day we have and for our good work. When we are at peace with ourselves, it will be easier to keep peace with others.
We must look towards children to remind us of the peacefulness of innocence. As adults, we overcomplicate our lives, always looking towards the future and refusing to be content in the moment. Children seem to exist without time. They fully commit to living in the moment and they embrace each emotion intensely. If we get a chance to spend time with children, we can appreciate their spontaneity and learn how to be at peace in the now.
If we can follow even one of these ideas, we will find ourselves closer to peace and closer to a quality that Athumani easily embodied. In this way, we can push ourselves further from the black hole and bring ourselves closer to the light.
As part of the memorial service for Athumani Brown, his school principal and family asked us all to reflect on how we could better live some of the values he exemplified: peace, community, and love. This post is the first in that series of three.
In lieu of flowers, the Brown family respectfully requests that your generosity may be leveraged to impact the next generation of Montessori scholars; locally or internationally. The children are our future. You may make a donation, in Athu’s honor, to: