For my birthday in June a friend gave me a wonderful gift: my very first ever remote-controlled airplane. I quickly christened it “The Wellstone” and each and every day since I have gone outdoors with it at least once, twice or even three times to resume my childhood. This Independence Day afternoon was no exception, despite the strong and gusty wind. It should have been no surprise then that it eventually caught an updraft and then a nor’wester, soaring up, up hundreds of feet and away on the way toward Lake Nokomis, or perhaps it had begun seeking clearance for an emergency landing at MSP airport just a bit further south. It was a beautiful sight, flying freely many times higher and farther away than it had ever flown before until, on a dead run, I lost sight of it beyond the treetops. I searched for half an hour over a three city block square through alleys and roadways, looking in yards and in trees and on rooftops, but to no avail.
I lost a good friend and a mentor yesterday.
With his wife Lynda, Jesse Smith was the co-franchisee of the Arthur Murray Edina studio where I first studied ballroom dance and worked for seven years. His 3 1/2 year struggle with Hodgkins Disease ended in peace yesterday morning at home with family. Jesse is also survived by his young son Dayton and his even younger daughter Elyse, both very early into their educational years.
As professional ballroom competitive partners, Jesse and Lynda were American Nine Dance Champions for consecutive years before they were married, having met when Jesse came to work at the studio Lynda owned as a skinny 19 year-old with immense talent and potential and a radiant, magnetic and extremely good-natured presence.
He was an internationally reknowned coach and judge, known as the gracious “Golden Boy” of Arthur Murray franchisees. He was universally well-liked, well-respected and admired.
For me, more importantly, he was magnanimously generous of spirit, of intelligence, of humor and especially generous of his knowledge and talents, spending countless hours training, teaching and coaching his staff before, during and after regular business hours.
Jesse (far left) with his staff in the winter of 2004:
I have only one e-mail in my mail book from Jesse and it is in response to my e-mail announcement that I was forming a Minneapolis chapter of World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime!, which led to this blog’s creation. Here is Jesse’s e-mail in its entirety:
I have read your recent e-mail and I applaud your initiative in opposing the hypocrisy of our administration. I hope you had a successful meeting. Have you read the “Memo” article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker Magazine? It is about the General Counsel of the Navy’s attempts to end the abuses at Gitmo and how he was brushed off by the people in the highest levels of the administration. It is on their website and worth the read. Sounds like you not only bought your new house, but have moved in-that’s great.
Again, good luck with your chapter and keep me informed.
Jesse taught me a lot. This has become his final message to me. I am passing his gift on to you:
It reads, in part:
The day after (outgoing general counsel of the U. S. Navy Albert J.) Moraâ€™s first meeting with (former head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service David) Brant, they met again, and Brant showed him parts of the transcript of (detainee) Qahtaniâ€™s (Guantanamo Bay) interrogation. Mora was shocked when Brant told him that the abuse wasnâ€™t â€œrogue activityâ€ but was â€œrumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington.â€ The mood in the room, Mora wrote, was one of â€œdismay.â€ He added, â€œI was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.â€ Mora told me, â€œI was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.”
Mora thinks that the media has focussed (sic) too narrowly on allegations of U.S.-sanctioned torture. As he sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. â€œTo my mind, thereâ€™s no moral or practical distinction,â€ he told me. â€œIf cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in Americaâ€”even those designated as â€˜unlawful enemy combatants.â€™ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. Itâ€™s a transformative issue.”
“…opposing the hypocrisy of this administration…” is a transformative issue as well. I dedicate and re-commit my ongoing efforts toward this end to the memory of my friend and mentor Jesse Smith.
Eventually I resigned myself to budgeting for the replacement purchase of my plane. I had been thinking about buying one for Dayton anyway. I headed for home up the very alleyway I had first run down as it disappeared. Laying on its back smack dab in the middle of the alley was my plane.