The nature of the conversation was argumentative, but there was a sense of affection between us. The vibrant voice on the other end of the phone was persistently posing questions, “What is the self?” “How are the students going to ask these questions?” “What is the point of understanding a self that doesn’t, in fact, exist?”
This particular conversation went on for 90 minutes or so. I held the phone to my ear as I paced around the lobby of the Georgia World Congress Center during the National Association of Independent Schools conference in Atlanta. It was March of 2018. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last conversation I had with Steve Worden, long-time donor and friend to Oak Grove School, friend to me.
In May of 2018, we received a certified letter from Steve’s lawyer, notifying us of his death.
I first spoke with Steve in 2011. He called to inquire about purchasing books through our publishing company. For the next several years, we spoke regularly (every five weeks or so). Most of our conversations would go on for more than an hour, sometimes more than two hours. Our conversations were heated and intense. He received the KFA and OGS printed publications and would share many criticisms and questions about what he read. Steve was an incredibly intelligent man and had deep concerns about humanity. Krishnamurti and David Bohm each had a profound impact on Steve’s understanding of things, and he wanted to make sure the school was integrating these teachings within the program.
Steve had no digital footprint, and we never met in person. Early on in our conversations, he began referring to me as “sir.” He explained that this would ensure a sense of depersonalization to our communications. In cooperation, I too referred to Steve as “sir” – when I could remember.
We would talk, and often disagree, about something he read or a Krishnamurti talk he heard. Most notably, Steve expressed concern that Oak Grove was not providing enough time or space for students, parents, and staff to ask the deepest questions. He expressed frustration about that in nearly every phone call.
Although he worked to depersonalize our connection, the humanness came through. Often our phone conversations would begin or end with Steve saying something like, “Did your husband stay safe during that recent fire?” or “Take care of your daughters,” or “Be careful when you drive up north.”
When Steve died, he bequeathed Oak Grove the sum total of his estate, which included his ashes. To honor Steve, we built the Reflective Classroom in his memory. This classroom will serve all members of the community as a place for reflective practices, including dialogue, meditation, journal writing, mindfulness, and silence.
This past week, the Oak Grove School Board held a modest dedication of the completed classroom. Afterward, each class, one at a time, had an opportunity to visit. As they waited to enter, Jacqueline Valle shared how students and adults will enter the classroom — in silence, shoeless, and without electronics, food, or drinks. Once inside, I had the opportunity to sit with the students and explain the intention of the space, answer their questions, and share my gratitude for Steve and the other people who made the space possible.
Students from preschool through 12th grade expressed a feeling of peacefulness and calmness as they sat in the room. Some asked if they could visit when they feel sad or overwhelmed. One high school student even asked if he could do his homework in the classroom. There were also questions about why we chose that location or how the windows were installed. There was an overwhelming shared feeling of happiness and gratitude.
Thank you, Sir.
— Jodi Grass, Head of School