Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kemal Gordon | Dot . 8

Over the weekend we received the following email, written by a neighbor, Bob Haas, and forwarded, about Kemal Gordon.

Yesterday I attended a funeral of a young man from my neighborhood, who died at age 29.  I never knew him, but I knew his mother.

This wasn't a gangland funeral.  It had nothing to do with shooting.  No, this was the funeral of a young man who had been successful in life, so far as his body could take him.  Kemal was a gifted kid, one whose creativity opened doors for him, to college, and afterward to a budding career as a filmmaker.  He'd graduated from Emerson College with a bachelor's degree in film, and he'd gone on to graduate studies at BU.  He was also acclaimed by his eulogizers as an accomplished visual artist, with paintings and drawings that rivaled his films.  I never knew any of that, save for some comments I heard recently from his mother at a meeting, when she said she had a son who was a filmmaker.

I knew Kemal's mother, but I didn't know her that well.  The family lived on Nonquit Street, in a house they bought from my onetime employer, Dorchester Bay EDC.  I can see their house from my back deck.  Some years ago I played a very small part in bringing about the renovation and then the sale of that house to them.  I took the picture of the family on the front steps of their new house, when Kemal was a small boy.

I didn't know the agony that Kemal's family must have been experiencing as the health of their son with such a promising career began to crumble away.  First off, when he was still in college, he was diagnosed with lupus, a type of lupus that attacks the kidneys.  I didn't know that, in her effort to save Kemal, his mother had donated him a kidney.  I didn't know any of that because I'd been keeping my distance from the family, because of a controversy I'd had with someone else on their street.  I'd been keeping my distance from everyone down there.

The trouble is, Kemal's mother Magnolia saved my life.  Back in the early hours of June 8, 1988, while I was fast asleep, Magnolia could see that my house was burning down and she called the fire department.  Later, when the firemen came to my bedroom to conduct me out to the street, where I then stood with neighbors until dawn, watching the conflagration, I didn't know that it was Magnolia who had saved me.  I didn't know that until weeks, maybe months, later.

Magnolia saved my life, and I'm the person she didn't know that well.  But she couldn't save the life of the son she loved deeply, the son whose achievements gave joy to the family, the son who regularly walked all the way home from Ruggles Station so he could observe things, so he could give expression to all the nuance of our neighborhood, both good and bad.  She couldn't save the son who crafted stories that wound up winning awards on the screens of film festivals.  She couldn't save the son who captured, in his film, the tragic paradox of budding business acumen coming alive in the drug dealers out on the corner, their skills sufficient, save for their reputations, to give them entry to corporate boardrooms.  No, she couldn't save him.  The kidney she gave him failed when a virus attacked it, and after that it was back to the regimen of dialysis treatments, until they, finally, wouldn't work any more.

I never saw Kemal's film, "Business Is War."  I wish I had and hope I do.  And I've never seen his paintings or drawings.  I just know that he was the kind of guy that I wish I'd known, and I wish the whole neighborhood had known him, to know what extraordinary talent and artistic depth there was in our midst.  I learned, at Kemal's funeral, that he'd achieved an extraordinary balance between passion and discipline, something that every one of us wishes we had.  I learned that he was the kind of guy who would work through the pain and disappointment, right down to the end, when he received the delivery of the final DVD of his film, the day before he died.

I've written this because I want you to know what kind of neighborhood I have.  And if you live here, I want you to know what kind of neighborhood we have.  It's not, I suspect, the picture you've been carrying around about us. This shows, I hope, the possibility all around us, if we would only embrace it, if we would only embrace the people who have already known what we are, or were, to slow to pick up.  I've written this because I hope that I or we can inspire a new generation, with the beauty and the potential that sits right in front of us.

Magnolia saved my life.  And I'm hoping that, coming from that act, I can save yours, and that you and I as we can save many more lives, to become the true fulfillment of creation.

Once again, to all of you, thanks for all the support you've been to my life.

Image ... Kemal Gordon.

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