I will call him the Shrew. People did not always like him. He had a dark side to himself. But, although young, one I could easily grasp. My old soul could always relate to such people. It came naturally. I thought people were too harsh on him. Then again, I always think people are too harsh on people.
He was my literature teacher and I learned plenty from him. How to read books. How to truly read books. His lessons were the end of me passing through the pages indolently and swallowing whatever anyone decided to put there. He taught me to feel literature and to picture the authenticity of the paper hardcovers. The grammar-akin kid in me was achingly growing by learning the worthlessness of dry words and by starting to feel books into adulthood.
One would even say that I did not perceive the Shrew in the typical, mostly supportive way expected from a mentor or a role-model. Relating was often challenging. His critical ways were a slap in the face to my young teenage ego accustomed to getting it easy through primary school. To my surprise, there was more to the world or words than just spelling and grammar.
He did not really led the decent society lifestyle or fell into the description of a politically correct person. He did definitely not fit in the teenage mentor “responsible adult” frame. But he knew books. And a great role model does not always need to be a great person, whatever stands behind the description of people’s greatness. By observing him during the four years of high school I started seeing both sides of people and I came to know acceptance, mostly self-acceptance.
The Non-Parental Mentor
The Shrew did teaching. But he was not a regular teacher. Nor a parent. Maybe that is exactly why I inadvertently chose him as a role model. Maybe his influence in my life was so important because the choice was not a conscious decision. Or maybe just because my grandmother was a teacher, too. The first teacher in my life who was not chosen, but put upon. Rather, the Shrew was my own choice and a different one from my parental figures. He did not care much about being accepted. In the open of course. He was human after all and wanted true connection.
Yet, he was genuine. Far more than many people I knew in my life. He was not so frightened to keep me so safe. Such is the ungrateful role of primary caretakers. Being so scared to keep youngsters well and safe, greater limits are made. The Shrew was filling in what I have been mostly missing as a teenager – authentic courage. Intelligence was so overrated to my family. Stupid people were laughed over. Only intelligent people were good enough to be loved. And that is why the real person behind the intelligent coward I was started emerging just as I enrolled high-school.
Boldness aside, the Shrew was not stupid. Not at all. Perhaps that is why he influenced me so much – because he had both the mind and the heart.
His job was not easy. Making young adolescents stay until the end of a 1000-page long Russian book classic is a taxing task. I never understood why they gave such books to so young people. What can a 15-year old teen understand about Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s adult gender and morality burdened problems or the society-induced killer in the main character of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”?
Possibly, we get these books because this is the most receptive age in which not everything needs to be fully understood, but in which the initial spark for the right kids can be forever ignited. And possibly, the Shrew knew this.
A Lesson from a Theater Setting
The actress lesson came upon me because the Shrew thought that often loud-spoken, I would make a good actress. Little did he know that I was loud only for things that truly mattered to me. I was not comfortable with being put on stage. Putting so much emotional energy out there was draining for an introvert like me. An evening in front of people took me days to recover.
Still, what would the role of the mentor be if not to put me out of my comfort shoes and see how far can I go when facing other(s)?
He made me play a middle-aged woman with a father that just got out of prison and a drug-addict son. Maybe he thought I could imagine being in her shoes. And there he was right. I do easily imagine what it is like to be someone else.
His methods were not always pedagogic, but they were certainly growth-spurring. My respect for him grew after this.
The Gushing 40-Minutes Long Final Exam
It was the day of the final exam in literature at graduation. We have been introduced possible topics and books that had the same gauge running through them. Quite unusually, I did not care much about this written exam. I thought it was boring. All those rules for writing essays were giving me a headache.
I was eighteen and finishing high school. The whole summer was before me and the beautiful May weather was not exactly the best friend on a graduation exam. I was practically angry that I had to sit there and write.
Perhaps it was all that anger that made me finish the exam within just forty minutes instead of using all two and a half hours we had at our disposal. But I’d like to think that the flow of words that was nothing like ever I’d written before came out under Shrew’s guidance.
The sentiment of that day helped me overcome the regret of not keeping my exam paper. Just then, I knew my needs, I found my voice and I made the right choice. It was the breaking step to believing in my personal value regardless of my looks or popularity. Shrew’s natural authority taught me how to find and open the right doors for me. Telling the truth to my peers just became much easier.
The know-it-all child’s best lesson from his high school guide was to question its deepest beliefs and to grow into a vulnerable adult.
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