Bill Cosby: A lesson in listening

Bill Cosby surprised guests at Lewis Katz's memorial in two ways - with his casual, college-inspired outfit, and his eloquent eulogy to his friend and former classmate. Mr. Cosby offered a stirring reminder not to judge a book by its ragged-looking cover.

Matt Rourke/AP
Entertainer and former classmate Bill Cosby speaks during a public memorial service for Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz at Temple University in Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 4.

The next time parents want to teach their children to be more concerned with the content of their character than the contents of their closet, they can recall how comedian Bill Cosby attended Lewis Katz's memorial service on Wednesday. 

Unshaven and clad in crumpled Temple University crimson sweatpants and T-shirt amid a sea of fancy suits, Mr. Cosby – despite his college-inspired dress –  anchored the memorial service to the truth with the weight and depth of his moving eulogy. 

Cosby was among nearly 1,400 mourners at the Temple Performing Arts Center to honor Mr. Katz, the philanthropist and Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner.

According to reports, Mr. Katz died after his private jet crashed during takeoff in Bedford, Mass. late Saturday night. He and his New Jersey friends, retired kindergarten teacher Anne Brennan Leeds, Marcella Dalsey and Susan Asbell had attended an educational fundraiser in Concord, Mass. 

When I saw the headlines and photos of Mr. Cosby looking more like someone who had just endured a bad night in a Temple University dorm (both he and Katz were Temple alumni), rather than someone speaking at a somber event, I was reminded of all the times my four sons have tried to leave the house sporting what my husband labels “inappropriate attire.”

Dress code is a constant battle at our house, however the conflict is more often between the two parents, and less of a parent-child battle. 

I subscribe to a more yielding dress code inspired by Maya Angelou's words, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If we are going to church, I want my sons to spend their time there absorbing the lesson instead of hating the tie that chokes them or fidgeting with belts, buttons, and itchy jackets.

My husband, who voluntarily spent his childhood in suits and ties, is the one to stop a raggedy-looking child from going out the door to anything from attending his brother’s school concert to dinner at the local pizza parlor and say, “Turn around and put on something appropriate.”

“Appropriate” by his definition always include ties, socks, slacks, and shirts with buttons on them.

Since I do not adhere to same code, I often do a poor job of re-enforcing it.

Case in point, last month I tried to be more like my husband and insisted my youngest son wear a tie to meet comedian Brian Regan at an event with his teacher. Yet, when my son returned from his room sporting a T-shirt with a monkey who was wearing a tie, I was so charmed I let him wear the shirt.

That’s because, as much as I understand the value of social custom, and how people often tie a tie to a person’s level of caring and respect for a given situation, I know in my heart that events are about how we feel and not how we look.

When I saw Cosby’s photo splashed all over the Internet today, rather than jumping to conclusions about his level of caring, I wondered what he was up to with his wardrobe choice.

The comedian’s words made his look completely immaterial as he put aside flowery, well-pressed, neat and expected expressions of grief to remind people to take care of “the gifts that were given to you” by Katz. 

Cosby stood on the dais beside former president Bill Clinton and a glittering host of well-to-do mourners and media to give them a stern warning, as a father would his children, about appreciating what Katz had bestowed upon the community.

Katz was a champion for education, as well as a benefactor to many charities who bestowed both funds and motivation on various communities which Cosby warned the group to not allow to be casually discarded.

Katz and his friends died while in the process of giving to our educational communities by attending a fundraiser, in support of educator Michael Goodwin, that could have global impact on education, according to CBS.

Cosby, wearing a T-shirt with the poignant slogan, "Self Made, Philly Made, Temple Made," recounted how Katz grew up poor in Camden, N.J. and how much he had given back to the city, including Boys and Girls Clubs, according to published reports.

"You better not let it drop. You better not let it fall," Cosby told the crowd. "Lewis Katz lives in what you do to the gifts that were given to you. You will treat these gifts as gifts – not something to be thrown in the trash."

Reading Cosby’s words, I could no longer see what he was wearing because my eyes were filled with tears, especially when he said, "You don't wait for people to come along and do it. You do it...You don't have to have big money. All you have to have is yourself."

Cosby stood in his Temple sweats and told the whole nation to go to its room and think about what needs to be done with its resources, "gifts,” and communities.

Instead of judging Cosby, and perhaps our kids by what they are wearing, we may want to open our eyes and our ears to better understand what they are feeling, and share in their joys and sorrows on a deeper level than the clothes on their back.

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