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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Roger Abrahams (1933-2017)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson

By Kimberly J. Lau (University of California, Santa Cruz) — 

About three years ago, I learned that Roger had recently moved from Philadelphia to Santa Clara, and I began visiting with him on a regular basis. It had been many years since I was in regular contact with Roger, but from the very start of our renewed engagement—a simple phone call to set up a lunch date—I was immediately reminded of why so much of our collective history revolves around him. Simply put: to be with Roger was like falling in love. With folklore, with history, with ideas. With people and places. With songs and stories. And most of all with him. It was so easy for us to fall in love with Roger because he was a miraculous and dynamic incarnation of all of these things.

But it was always more than that, too, as his many best friends, colleagues, and former students will attest. Roger was eternally charming and flirtatious, his eyes ever twinkling. He made you feel like the most important person in the world, the only person in the world—and you were, at least in that moment, that story, that idea, no matter who you were. When I was helping Roger’s son, Rod, move Roger’s books from his apartment in assisted living, I was overwhelmed by the number of people—caretakers, maintenance staff, residents—who stopped Rod to offer teary condolences along with memories of Roger and the delight, the wonder, he brought to their lives. Their reminiscences and appreciations were, in essence, the same as those pouring forth from scholars, performers, and public figures. Roger recognized everyone’s brilliance, but more importantly he gifted you with that recognition.

Roger liked to tease me about a time when, as a new graduate student, I asked whether he was flirting with me. I don’t remember asking him the question—although I’m sure I did—and he never did tell me what he might have said in response, but now that I’ve spent so much time with him, I understand that Roger’s gift of hearing you, of seeing you, has the same enchanting effect as a flirtation. Where a flirtation is fleeting, however, Roger’s attention created a lasting space for your ideas. He drew forth interpretations and impressions, speculations and conjectures. Roger’s banter—often playful, always inquisitive, challenging, historicizing—carried with it an exhilarating energy and force that left you buzzing, truly alive to the possibilities of shared discovery, of having thought something profound with another person.

I always left my visits with Roger with more than I came with. If I brought baked goods, I left with books. If I brought questions, I left with an abundance of answers. If I brought only myself, I left with Roger in my head and in my heart.

Talking. Laughing. Sharing.
Recognizing the fullness of another.
Being transported beyond yourself.
This to me is love.
This to me is Roger.

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