Meet a teacher who changed lives without ever speaking

Duane Bazeley

Duane Bazeley 1980–2011

Duane had his first grand-mal seizure at three months. Diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, he never learned to talk or walk unaided. Until he was nineteen, Duane’s parents were his primary caregivers. Then Richard Scott (read his story here), a new pastor, arrived at the New York Bruderhof where the family lived. Richard didn’t just see a disabled young man, he saw, as he put it, “a missionary without a field.” And he had a startling proposal: pull Duane out of his special-needs school in a nearby town, and start a new “school” at the Bruderhof. Duane would be the teacher, and his caregivers, a roster of young men assigned for several hours a day, or for night duty, would be his students. As Duane’s sister, Maureen, remembers: 

It was counterintuitive, but the best idea ever, a crash course for his caregivers that included pushing his tricycle for hours, fighting to get more oatmeal into his mouth than onto his shirt, dealing with sleepless nights, and learning to change diapers. 

Through all the years I’ve been with children, I’ve always thought the most important thing is to have joy with them. Each day is a new day, a new chance. As a teacher, I have had to be humble, and to have reverence for each child.
Maidi Boller, kindergarten teacher and Bruderhof member

It also meant learning that nothing you previously excelled at counted, for Duane. Best tackle on the field? Meaningless. He needed help simply turning over in bed. Straight-A student? Who cares? He’d never even graduated from kindergarten. Articulate, sociable, clever? Useless. Conversations were ­basically a one-way street.

No one graduated from Duane’s school unchanged. Duane lived for thirty-one years, thirty more than his neurologists had predicted. After his death, his parents received dozens of notes from his former caregivers. One wrote, “During my early twenties my life was fraught with struggle and confusion, till I got the chance to care for Duane. He taught me that I really didn’t know it all, that I had to start caring for others first, and that ­perfection and strength as God sees them were utterly different from my previous strivings for those qualities. I don’t know where I’d be without having known him.”

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