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The Fire Burns On: Remembering Ed Dunn

When Cesar Chavez died in 1993, Franciscan Brother Ed Dunn of the St. Barbara Province approached me about a project to honor the great co-founder of the United Farm Workers. “The Franciscans were very close to Cesar and the UFW,” Ed said. “We could create a statue or some kind of monument, but that doesn’t really seem right. Cesar was a person of action, an organizer, an example. We need to keep his vision alive in a more powerful way.” He then shared his idea to host a series of workshops on Cesar’s nonviolence with Latino youth from throughout California, and asked me to be on the team with him, with Olga Islas of San Jose, and with Leonardo Vilchis of East Los Angeles.

We held these weekends once or twice a year for four years at Forty Acres (the UFW’s headquarters in the town of Delano in the Central Valley) and at La Paz (Chavez’ final resting place). Under Ed’s direction, we experienced a powerful space of engagement as we shared the woundedness and sacredness of our lives and our society. We were mindful of the watchful spirit of Cesar as a new generation explored tools and processes to challenge and transform the violence of injustice.

That was Ed. Always imagining another way to push the great agenda: of justice, of authentic peace, of giving every person – especially those most left behind and dismissed and threatened – their due.

This morning, I learned that Ed died the previous night – in the evening of Feb. 12. The e-mail from his friend and coworker, Mark Schroeder, OFM, shared that Ed had died peacefully. He had waited long enough for his friend, Francisco, to hustle into the room after arriving from Ireland. That was Ed, too. He was good at waiting for everyone to arrive, whether that was friends who wanted to hang out with him (to strategize, to catch up, or to sing “If I Were a Rich Man,” with his eyes closed and his large body bounding across the room) or his other friends from Mexico and El Salvador and Guatemala arriving after a harrowing pilgrimage across the boundaries of armed borders.

Ed wore a tee-shirt with the words “No Borders” which critiqued a policy aimed at the poorest of the poor. But it also summed up his personal ethic. Nothing should be an obstacle to relationship, to dignity, to connection.

Cynthia and I were in Southern California last summer, and as part of that sojourn, we spent an afternoon with Ed at the San Luis Rey Franciscan Mission about 30 miles north of San Diego. We sat under a large tree whose branches spread a gentle canopy above us. We spoke briefly about his illness, but mostly he wanted to talk about healing the world. Even here, even now, the nonviolence workshop – and the innumerable projects and campaigns and actions – continued.

As you, Ed, once ruminated on a way to honor Cesar, I ruminate on a way to honor you. Not to “keep your presence alive” — like all who have given their lives for love and justice, your presence is durable, alive, unquenchable. Rather, as a way to occasionally make contact with the powerful fire of your overwhelming compassion and gumption. To get a spark now and then. And to send those sparks in every direction.

So I am mulling this over. Something will come to me. For now, Ed, I thank you for everything you are and everything you have done and everything you continue to do, as we trail behind you, in the wake of your heat and light and fire.

Spark on, Ed.