(Photo of Kenyon Field from 1964 East Orange High School Yearbook)
It is hard to believe that it is nearly twelve years since my dear friend Kenyon died
“Field to Star in Our Town” blared the headline from the East OrangeHigh School News. Kenyon Field was the stage manager, the calm all knowing presence that absorbed life’s blows and moved forward with strength and dignity. That is how I first remember Kenyon. That is how I shall always remember him…
“Class, get ready for your time trial.”
I can still see our personal typing teaching Myrla R. Oakley standing before our class, and I can still hear her saying those dreaded words. Kenyon sat in the chair directly in front of me. “Begin,” commanded Mrs. Oakley. Before my struggling fingers typed the first word, I heard the bell and saw the blur of Kenyon’s typewriter carriage as he was already on to the second line and off to the races.
He was on the only African American in our class at Hamilton College.
What courage that took! Yet Kenyon welcomed the challenge. We joined the same fraternity. I am sure he was the first African American to pledge Delta Upsilon at Hamilton. It didn’t faze him. He didn’t think about being a pioneer. He made friends easily. His smile, his warmth, his laughter drew people to him.
We were roommates for almost all of the time he was there. He had crazy sleeping habits–almost never at night—often during the day. He was my friend, my confidante, and through long intimate conversations we shared the laughter and the loneliness that Hamilton foisted upon each of us in different ways.
Then, one day, he felt ill and went to the infirmary. He had a urine test, and the doctor told him he was very sick.
Soon Kenyon left Hamilton, and somehow we lost touch. Years went by.
The next I heard of him he had finished his undergraduate degree at Upsala College in East Orange and was in Medical School studying to be a kidney doctor. He had a new kidney-the precious gift of his loving mother–and wanted to take care of patients who had suffered as he had.
Another blank page … more years elapsed
Then, miraculously we were almost neighbors. He was a physician at Johns Hopkins and I was a rabbi in Maryland. We both had young children. He would come to visit. How great it was to see him!
Those were years when reasonable health allowed Dr. Kenyon Brown Field to accomplish great things, and I marveled at how confident and successful he was and at the respect he had earned.
Then we moved to Tennessee and the n to Connecticut. Years passed again. His sister Beverly to in touch with me to tell me Kenyon was ill. She gave me his phone number
I called. He had suffered a stroke, yet somehow he managed to continue to practice. How in the world he did it, I don’t know, but by then I could never be truly surprised by the indomitable strength and sprit of my friend.
Speech was difficult for him. He searched for words. Could this be Kenyon?
I remember how once in an East Orange High assembly he portrayed a Black preacher with a silver tongue. Words and syllables fell out of his mouth like pearls in a sermon on the story of Noah and the ark. I can still hear his refrain, “’Cause it’s gonna rain.”
There was much rain that fell in Kenyon’s life, but through it all he was the rainbow that lit up the cloudy sky. Now he could speak only with difficulty. And yet his laugh, his laugh was the same.
Only a few weeks ago, I conducted a seminar and preached about the story of Noah at the Geiger College in Berlin. For me Kenyon was like the צהר (Tzo-har), the skylight in the ark that allowed the people to perceive God’s presence.
Can it be nearly twelve years since I spoke at his funeral? His light still shines, and I still pray to be worthy of his friendship.