On this weekend of reflection and introspection, I’ve been perusing my memory banks and thinking of my high school days.
I’m thinking of an educator who profoundly changed my life and I don’t think she knows it. I can pinpoint the teacher who made me love math, the one who taught me to write, but how do you narrow it down to the one who took your adolescent waking self and sent you on a path toward adult wholeness.
It started last night when I had the most vivid of dreams where I was playing Riff-Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show at my senior year Christmas pageant. I did a dance with my friend Carmen who was playing Magenta and the crowd joined us as we jumped to the left, took a step to the right and did the Time Warp again. While this was in my dream last night, this actually happened in 1982, during the holiday season before I graduated from high school.
It was not a particularly happy time in my life and while the pressures of adulthood had still not become a part of my daily routine, I felt that the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I don’t even remember why I felt this way then, but I remember being troubled in the quietest of places. The hardest of struggles for me back then should have been the trek up to the fourth floor of my high school drama class.
In fact, that room, that teacher, that stage, that class was one of my safe places. It was a place where the Juan that was yet to be, found solid ground and built the foundation that would allow him to stand tall in later years.
When you are an artist of any kind, artistic expression is prone to ridicule, criticism and mockery. As a teenager, and one who would always feel like a very old soul amongst his peers, I was that kid that needed a little bit more time to cook, I wasn’t quite ready for prime time at seventeen and I didn’t always put my art out there for people to view. My art today is my writing, my art then, was me. She appreciated me and I knew it. I didn’t feel that from many adults at that stage of my life. Marty Hancock took art appreciation to a new level for me.
It was only later, in adulthood, where I developed the confidence I had faked in prior years. I finally found the comfort in my own skin that was terribly elusive in adolescence and I learned to appreciate that kid from my past and fix so many of the wrongs I had perceived. Interestingly enough, many of those wrongs define my persona today and save for those extra pounds I’d like to lose and a yearning for better health, I like me quite a lot today.
She has a lot to do with that because she had a real quality about her that allowed many, not just me, to see her as more than a mentor and teacher. She was a fallible human being and by showing us that humanity, she tapped into our own. I don’t think I ever told her what a profound influence she had on me. She made that High School experience end with an impactful lesson that would travel with me through life.
I hope she knows that the trek up those stairs saved my life from being ordinary because as I learned in her classroom many moons ago, ‘when you’re extraordinary, you gotta do extraordinary things…’
And partly because of her influence, I did and I have.