nonsensical text

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

on learning more than english (a tribute)*

Paralyzed – I sit here knowing that I need to write; I need to express this loss in a way that can somehow capture the enormity of a man’s impact on my life.  What right do I have to this encompassing grief for a man I have not seen in over twenty years? How do I reconcile the fact that I will never see him again? With whom do I unravel in an atmosphere of compassion and understanding?

Mr. James Bradley was my eleventh grade English teacher.  That sounds so mundane. He was anything but. I came to him with so little self-confidence, an almost-woman-child who could skate by with good grades in most things without ever expending full effort. There were many parts to me which were so broken, but they were buried deep.

I remember the first day of his class.  We, the class, sat stupefied as he listed item after item that we would be expected to complete in the coming year.  The list was terrifying. He ended with the unshakeable pronouncement that never, under any circumstance, did he grade with a curve. One student piped in, “Well what if we all fail?”

“Then I fail you all,” came the reply.  But Mr. Bradley did not just throw us out into the depths of critical thought and leave us to flail around on our own.  He coaxed us with encouraging words; he built up the basic knowledge that we needed to accomplish every task he set forth, and he did so in such a way that made us proud to discover that we could do so much more than we ever expected of ourselves.

In many ways, he was a bear of a man – all gruff and stern. Then you looked in his eyes, and you could see a gentleness and humor there which was ingrained into every aspect of him.  He allowed me to see this side of him, and he saw and understood a depth in me that many could not. In his presence, I was unafraid of my vulnerability. He was one of the first good male role models I had in my life, and he made me want to give my best even if I didn’t have to do so to succeed.

But, all of these words are so flimsy.  They can’t convey to someone who didn’t know him, who didn’t know me, the degree to which he infiltrated my soul.  If I had never met him, I might not be. On more than one occasion, his gentle presence helped me to find some light in a tunnel so deep and long that I couldn’t find my own thoughts, let alone see my fingers in front of my face.

I envy those who found a way to stay in contact with him through the years.  I mourn that I didn’t discover he was on Facebook until it was too late.  I am thankful that he had the love of his family, people who took care of him the way that he took care of us. He will be missed.

*I smile slightly with the knowledge that using no capitals in a title is, perhaps, a contrary way to start a tribute to an English teacher.  I’m sure I have managed at least one other error of grammatical judgment. I hope that, somewhere, that brings a smile to his face.