The other day, I mentioned a poem by ee cummings, that was introduced to me by a teacher of mine, and I said I would tell you a bit about him someday. Well, today is the day. That teacher's name was Bob Hanlon, and he was my Latin teacher, as well as my Composition in Literature teacher in High School.
My first day of 9th grade, when I first saw him, all I could think was of the Beatles' line, "I am the Walrus", because he was kind of pale, kind of roudish, and had this big, walrus-like mustache. But the more I got to know him, the more I understood that this was a great man. I don't know about the rest of you, if your whole high school is/was full of idiot teachers, or mediocre teachers, or both; I certainly had my share of both of those categories. But I also had teachers who made me want to open my mind and my heart, to make the world a better place, and to be a better person, for myself, for my children, for the world. Mr. Ponder, Mr. Cornett, Mr. Cohen, Mr. McKeever and Mr. Hanlon were just such people. The first three were math teachers, and since my skills in math went from top of the class in 8th grade to barely keeping up in the advanced classes in 9th grade, but still not willing to take the easier classes, these teachers really made me feel ok about my decisions, and made me feel like even a C in their classes was pretty darned good. Mr. McKeever was amazing. I had Biology with him, and one semester, I was lazy and involved with friends and my after-school job, and I was barely pulling a B in his class. He noticed, noticed me and knew I was smart. This was not a small high school, so for a teacher to notice really meant something. He pulled me aside one day, and asked me to please get an A the next semester. Not that he would give it to me, he wanted me to earn it. And you know what? That's all it took. I worked my butt off for him, and I earned that A. Sometimes it's amazing to me how little it takes to really encourage a student, (or devastate them, sadly) and I wish that our teachers were able to do that for all of them.
Mr. Hanlon was in this same class of teacher. The kind to make you try your best, just to make him happy. I have never excelled in languages. I never did well in Latin, or in French (I got an F one semester in college French, much to my chagrin) and his Latin class really made me struggle. I don't know why I kept going back (I took 2 more years of Latin for my Master's...what was I thinking?). But part of the reason was that I never felt dumb in his class. I always felt like he respected me and honored me for who I was.
Mr. Hanlon's back story is that he was a Catholic Priest, and he fell in love. He couldn't marry in the church, so he got out and married his beloved wife. They lost an amazing, compassionate, wonderful man that day. Losing Mr. Hanlon, in my book, would be enough to make the church rethink that stupid policy.
In Comp Lit (which is what we called Composition in Literature, as opposed to Comparative Literature, which was my Master's Degree), he just helped me to become ME. In his watchful, gentle care, I felt like I was blooming. I talked to other students, and they felt the same way. We read "The Dead", by James Joyce. We read King Lear. We read so many amazing books, stories, and plays. And there he was, this gentle, amazing walrus of a man, who could encourage you, a powerless little high school student, to THINK. To rail against the dark forces in the universe. To fight for good, against evil in all of its forms. His class was a balm for the perhaps more practical English classes, where we would continuously prep for the SAT, learning antonyms and so on. His class made you think, made you feel. And Mr. Hanlon? He could make you feel good about yourself. That's no mean feat when dealing with teens. He was an amazing man, an amazing teacher. He was just what so many teenagers need.
And, I am heartbroken to say, 'was' is the correct tense. He and his wife had a farm, and on that farm they had cows. They also had irrigation, which calls for irrigation ditches. One morning, before coming to school, he found a calf down in an irrigation ditch. It was obvious that the calf was in trouble, and he climbed down to help it. Both he and the calf drowned to death that morning. Outside of family deaths, I'm not sure anyone has died and left me more grief stricken than I was when I found out about that loss. The world, the universe, lost an ally that day.
You all probably know that I'm an atheist, that God doesn't really hold any great charms for me. A few years ago, I went to the retirement party for Mr. Cohen, one of my amazing math teachers, and I was talking to another of my teachers, Mr. Cornett. (That day, I felt like my memories from HS were not crazy...that it had indeed been an amazing, safe, nurturing, wonderful place, and really, because of these few men. If Maya gets one teacher so wonderful at that age in her life, I will be thankful.) Mr. Cornett and Mr. Hanlon were good friends, great friends. I never knew this in HS, and that doesn't really surprise me, seeing how self centered most HS students are, it didn't really occur to me that they had friends and families. Anyway, Mr. Cornett was telling me how much Mr. Hanlon and his wife loved dragonflies....loved to see them fly about in the afternoon sun, felt somehow closer to each other when there were dragonflies about. Mr. Cornett (Glen, he would ask me to call him...but it's hard after all this time) told me that at Mr. Hanlon's funeral, a ring of dragonflies came and buzzed lazily about Mrs. Hanlon's head, like a crown, like a halo...and he never felt closer to God or to an afterlife as at that precise moment. It's moments like that that give me hope, that at least for a bit, maybe our souls can hang on and watch over those we love.