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Surf On Pauliño-English

Lire les mots
Lire les textes
Lire les vies
Lire le monde
Lire nos coeurs

I mean picture this
600 street-wise American and Canadian activists
Assembled in the conference hall of the New School of Social
Research in New York City
Where in 1932 the first North American meeting of the Workers
Education Association was held

A birthday conference for Paulo Freire, the most influential
Educational thinker of the 20th century
Academics jammed in next to homeless organizers who are
Jammed in next to Lady Garment Workers who are
Jammed in next to the Puerto Rican Independence underground who are
Jammed in next to kindergarten teachers who are
Jammed in next to high school students who are
Waiting to hear from Paulo Freire

And Paulo, 70 years old, who has come to town to help us all
Celebrate ourselves through him, stands up behind a table on the

“I’d like to tell you”,
Paulo says in his quiet gentle voice,
“About the best gift that I have had for my birthday.
I received it from a young boy in Recife, in Northeast Brazil where
I was born.
He gave me the gift of a picture which he had drawn himself
A picture of the crashing Atlantic coastal waves
And in the picture was a man riding on what I think is called a
Surf board.
And on top of the board, riding the waves, was an old man with a
white beard and glasses.
That old man was me. It was a picture of me.
And my young friend had written words beneath this picture in his
own handwriting.
He told me “Surf On Pauliño”
Surf on little Paul
“And”, Paulo said with a smile that reached out to the entire hall,
“I intend to do just that”.

For Paulo was a transcendent rider of the waves
Waves of respect for the oppressed people of this planet
Waves of intellectual curiosity; lover of words
Waves of exile and loneliness in Chile, Geneva and Africa
Waves of love for his children, his dear Elsa who died before him
Waves of love for the final love of his life, his widow Nita.
And waves of love for his friends in such places as Guinea-Bissau,
Cuba, India, Fiji, France and, yes, for us in Canada.

For if he was a teacher
For if he was an activist
For if he was a writer
For if he was a teller of stories
He was above all a person in the great and ancient tradition of
Brazilian mystics
More than a teacher
More than an activist
More than a writer
More than the teller of stories

He carried with him a warm breeze of historic possibility
He carried with him the memories of many struggles
He carried with him vulnerability and need
He carried with him opportunities for friendship
He carried with him the new eyes of the young
He carried with him revolutionary agency
He carried with him his hand for ours
He carried with him the electric atmosphere of a Northeastern
Brazilian Storm

Paulo often apologized for his ways of speaking languages other
Than his beloved Portuguese
And yet he held audiences at hushed attention when he spoke in
English, French or Spanish in every corner of the world
He found ways through his distinct ways of speaking English and
French and other languages to draw us in to his speech
To draw us into himself
So much did he seem to need us, his audience, that we hung on his
Every word and we helped him to reach out to ourselves

So that in the end
we were his text
We were his words
He was our text
He was our words

Lire les mots
Lire les textes
Lire les vies
Lire le monde
Lire nos coeurs

Surf on

This poem was written to celebrate the birthday of Paulo Freire in the year after his death in 1998

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