Dear One and the Phone Call (That Never Happened)

Since we first made a connection with one another, master poet and classroom teacher, Lee Bennett Hopkins had always invited a phone call. “Call me sometime” an email would end. Lee, Dear One, was among the first of many within the poetry community to extend condolences upon my father’s passing. It was Dear One who sent the email. The very next day. In his email, he cited the current Young People’s Poet Laureate:

My dear friend, Naomi Shihab Nye writes in her new collection, VOICEs IN THE AIR:

People do not pass away.
They die
and then they stay.

I believe this.

My thoughts are with you.

I know there are many within the poetry and education communities today mourning the passing of Dear One. That many of my friends are reaching out today with, “I read/heard this and thought of you. . .” suggests that our connection ran deeper than a post back and forth. A back channel email talking about the tradition and craft of poetry. One of my favorite things to do with Lee was to find one of his more obscure titles at a library sale and post it to his page. This would always result in surprise that I had found it and a history lesson around the creation of that book and the people involved. Dear One was a curator of stories of like these. He took these moments of chance encounters and once-in-any-lifetime friendships and shared them with me. He shared them with you.

We will all miss him. This will be one of the reasons I will miss him. I am always going to be finding Lee Bennett Hopkins books because I will always be looking for them.

Call me anytime. Let’s talk.

I never called. We never talked. Ed Spicer said, “Call him.” Rebecca Kai Dotlitch said, “Call him.”

I was too afraid. To talk to Lee Bennett Hopkins. The Dear One who sent me one of his personal copies of Dear One, an NCTE publication featuring poets in celebration of the poet.

I was too afraid to call and talk to Dear One because. . .well. . .because maybe I was afraid he would find something “dear” in this “one.” I sense that he thought that he had found it and he would want to share it with me.

In one email, after I had reviewed School People, Lee wrote to me and said that he was so happy that I liked the book. It was important that a teacher would like this book and want to talk about this book with other teachers. He closed the email with, “the book was created with teachers like you in mind.” It’s one of those messages now that I will hold up against any evaluation, formal or self, from here on out that reads “needs improvement.”

There was no way I could call him. Not sometime. Not anytime. We all know Lee, right? He would want to address me as Dear. In the assessment of good teachers and teaching, he would try to make me one. I knew I would fail him. I wouldn’t know enough about poetry or teaching. Better to keep it all behind the wall. A post. An email. A review. A response.

And when my father died, a personal message of healing. In the words of a poet through a poet to a poet.

Oh. I wish I had called him. Who might think I am Dear One too now? Having lost one so dear, can one ever hope to realize dear again? Dear One. Dear, Only.

So many within the poetry community today sharing out forty-plus years of working relationship. I am a classroom teacher. I sense that Lee cared for me deeply for the station I held as a classroom teacher, but I also believe he delighted in my dogged pursuit of the whole LBH catalog, one yard sale or resale shop at a time. “How do you find these?” he would ask. Oh. . .just by looking about, I guess. I could have called and told him. My heart found them each time as every time I go into a resale shop or a library sale I hope to find one LBH collection. This always brought us a little closer together. Closer to a call. They will always bring us a little closer. But, now, I cannot call.

Because someone/something else called “Dear One” today. And the call was answered.

I believe that writing is a means by which we might write our wrongs. Make the missed connection. Dial into what might have been said.


Ring. . .ring. . .ring. . .


Hello? Lee?


It’s me. Paul. The teacher from southern Indiana?

Oh, Paul. I know who you are, Dear One.

No. What? Wait. You are Dear One.

No. You are.

Okay. We are. 

I was calling because you have always said to give you a call. I’m giving you a call.

Yes. Yes. Good. I’ve been waiting for you to call for the longest time.

Well. Yes. You see? I was so nervous. Because you are the Dear One.

Did we not already establish that we are both the dear one?

Oh, yes. Of course. But. . .well. . .I called because I just wanted to say, thank you. You know? For creating all of this poetry and making all believe that we can be poets and I love all of these books and I have just about all of them and some of them come in really fragile and I have to kind of piece them together but they are still readable and I love that book that is all about books and it was one f the first collections I found when I started teaching and the word book. . .the word book was another of the first books that I had in my classroom during that first year of teaching and I cannot really tell you what any of this means to me and I cannot believe that I am talking to Dear One. . .I mean you. . .right now and I have so much to say but really what I want to say is just thank you. . .you know. . .for being you and all. And wow. . .I cannot believe this. . .

Dear One. . .hello. . .hello? Dear One? Hello? Lee?


Silence. . .because this is the script. This is the sound. Of the call never made.

But not silent as the words of one so dear have been recorded in the almost 3/4 plus of a collection that I will continue. More than collection, it is now a sort of curation. Each title bringing me a little bit closer.

Thank you, Dear One. Thank you from one classroom teacher in southern Indiana. Thank you for taking the time to encourage. . .me. It means the world to me.

And to my friends in the poetry community who are grieving today. . .may I shared with you something that Dear One. . .Lee Bennett Hopkins. . .shared with me? Here it is:

My dear friend, Lee Bennett Hopkins, upon the passing of my father, quoted the Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye, who writes in her new collection, Voices in the Air:

People do not pass away.
They die
and then they stay.

I believe this.

My thoughts are with you.


Be well poets, all.




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