Just yesterday I made contact with one of my teachers from high school via social media. She has since retired from teaching, and my own days spent with her as both a freshman and as a senior in high school were long ago.
In her care I was introduced to one of my favorite authors, Charles Dickens. It would, in truth, take several years for me to say he was one of my favorites; and yet now, in my forties, I find myself parsing out his works over time whereas there will not be any ‘new releases’ unless some heretofore undiscovered treasure trove of unpublished works is found. I do not, however, hold out much hope for this.
I learned from her, also, to enjoy the art of writing. During her class students were tasked with developing stories both fictional and non-fictional and presenting them in class to a group of our peers for critique and feedback. It was, at this time, that I learned how to more fully express myself in writing whereas the spoken word often failed (and still fails) me and I could, by then putting pen to paper and now fingers to keyboard mine the deeper recesses of my conscience and release the stream of thoughts that flows there like a surging waterway begging for an outlet.
The gratitude I feel for both these gifts, a love of literature and a love of writing, that I received from her I am not sufficiently able to express. How does one explain to another person the soaring inside the soul and the mind one feels when one becomes enraptured by a clever storyline or a well-developed plot, or when a fictional character is so relatable to situations in one’s own life that it seems the author has some sort of direct access to your thoughts and feelings and has laid them out in black and white for you to examine as a sort of outsider looking in? How can a person properly thank someone for helping them to recognize that there are other venues to explore in the expression of those thoughts and feelings when it seems there is no one in the world who can possibly comprehend them as they stumble over the tongue, spoken in haste or anger, when the deeper, truer meaning of those words is something far more than a person has the words to express? How does a person properly convey to a teacher, despite the passage of time, ‘I listened…I learned…..I remember’….and thank them for their dedication to their craft?
Teachers face, day after day, the blank expressions and disinterest of many (perhaps most) of the students in their classrooms as they attempt to instill knowledge in those students that they will hopefully one day put to practical use in their adult lives. Teachers fight the ennui of children and teenagers who would prefer to scroll their social media news feed and take online quizzes and text their friends rather than immerse themselves in the brilliance of a classic author or develop their own inner voice and learn to reveal that voice to the world around them. Teachers attempt, each and every day of their careers, to present their students with a gift that may not be the ‘latest’ or ‘flashiest’ technology device and is not wrapped in eye-catching paper, nor festooned with ribbons and bows. Teachers give a gift that is not readily tangible and won’t sit on a shelf or a mantle for all who visit to admire and praise. Teachers give us knowledge. It is a gift more precious than anything ‘material’ that we can ever possess. It is a gift that we can keep our entire lives and no one else can ever lay claim to.
It is also a gift that we can bestow upon others.
I indulge, quite willingly and happily, in classic literature on a regular basis. I also read contemporary works, historical stories, and non-fiction written about subjects that pique my interest such as polar exploration, Greek mythology, natural disasters, and unsolved crimes. I never feel quite ‘right’ if I don’t have a book that I’m reading, even if it takes me a month or more to finish it. Books have become my most steadfast companions in life and to not have something I am currently reading is the only time I ever feel truly ‘alone’ in the world; a situation I correct quickly. Books are, to me, like old friends waiting to wrap me in warm memories and new friends waiting yet to be discovered.
My children watch me read…they see me settling into a comfortable chair and spending minutes that become hours soaking in word after word and sentence after sentence in rapt delight when I find a ‘gem’ to read. My children also, although they often would rather tune in and tune out with television or video games (which they are allowed to in moderation), are discovering the amazing world of entertainment and enlightenment that awaits them in books. They have asked me, more than once, why I love to read so much. I tell them that to read is, for me, a chance to learn, a chance to laugh, a chance to cry, and a chance to break through the confines of what my eyes see and explore my imagination instead, as the black and white words I read form colorful images in my mind and the scenes of the novel play out in my head like my own private picture show. I tell them that reading teaches me new words and new ways of speaking, it fills my mind with things I might never otherwise have known, and sometimes it takes me back to things I might have forgotten and reminds me of why I enjoyed them in the first place. I know they have listened, and have learned, and remember when I see them pick up a book, retreat to a comfortable spot of their own and sink into the pages of a good story which holds their attention. I see the subtle changes to their countenances when a word or an idea intrigues or pleases them. I see them thirsting for knowledge when some of those words are unfamiliar to them, and they ask the meaning of the words so that they might better understand what the author is trying to convey. I see them realizing for themselves what I have long known…that the universe of literature is a vast and wondrous place, a place to be explored and savored, and a place where they themselves can be or encounter anyone at all.
I also see them learning to express themselves more fully in writing. On occasion they bring home pieces of their classwork where they have been tasked with writing a story or composing a letter to someone. Often times the letters are to me, and the stories are about experiences we have shared. Rather than be just flattered by so often starring in their imaginations…I am forever grateful that these experiences and these moments that we share have made an impression upon them and embedded themselves in the boys’ memories…and they can relate them, in written word, and what their own understanding and enjoyment of these experiences were. The boys often see me sitting at my laptop, busily clacking away at the plastic keys, moving characters and situations along in the few stories I am working on. They ask me what the stories are about, and I share some of the details with them, and one of the boys has even offered suggestions of how he thinks the story should progress, showing me his capacity for imagination and thought.
I won’t take full credit for any of these things. I do feel my own enjoyment of reading and writing have influenced the boys, and yet I know from my own experience that the teachers they have during the school year play a sizable role in this as well. I reflect upon the lessons they presented and the impact this all had upon my life, and hope that in some future time the boys will reflect upon these same things and will understand and appreciate the significance of the teachers they had, and use that experience and influence in the raising of their own children, should they choose to follow the same wonderful path I have of being a father.
As the new school year approaches I look forward to meeting the teachers the boys will have for the following months. I look forward to seeing at the end of each day what they have imparted upon the boys while having charge of them and their eager, absorbent minds each school day. I hope to be able to impress upon them the value of what they are learning, and to have respect for the gifts they are being given, as well as for the givers, while they muddle through the drudgery that can accompany their school years. I look forward to watching the expansion of their minds encouraged by the teachers they have.
But most of all I look forward to one day seeing the teachers they will become.