Friday, March 22, 2013
A Good Life--Morning Thanks
I don't know Wilson R. Thornley, but I know of him. He was a teacher somewhere out West, in Utah, in the 50s, I'd guess; but I know for sure that one of his students, a young girl named Liane Ellison, picked up something worthwhile when he was holding forth in the classroom.
Mr. Thornley, a man with an unfortunate name, was likely anything but.
That flame of hair
rimming his head
cocked like a bird's
smile of sheer delight,
wizard with invisible
I wonder whether that description shows us Mr. Thornley as clearly as it does Liane Ellison.
in a high school class-
room at the end
of a hall with marble
floors and walls
to write with savory
detail, verve and clarity
to fit voice and breath.
I've been in enough schools to hazard a guess that there's one of these in just about every one, some man or woman lit with sweet and sufficient passion to strike up a flame in the hearts of her kids. Mr. Thornley isn't exactly ubiquitous, but he--or she--isn't without parallel either. He's just plain good at what he does. Maybe his art is practiced, but then again maybe it isn't--he's simply gifted with desire.
And now, I think, the poem gets good.
He died long years ago
but came to my dream,
answered the fear
that I had done too
little to change the world,
I know that one, except it's not a dream; it's a ache.
Still, in that dream of hers, Mr. Wilson R. Thornley came down those hallowed halls to greet his old ex-student, Liane Ellison Norman,
tipped his head, said
You never know
what it is you change.
Emphasis forgive-ably hers, by the way, not mine.
You never know what it is you change, he must have said at one time, that red flame of hair cocked like a bird's.
That's the way the poem ends, but not the memory.
A young lady, a junior, stopped by after my night class this week to edge into the conversation the notion that maybe, just maybe, even at this late point in her college career, she might just want to be a teacher, a vocation she'd never before really thought about seriously. "How was it?" she said, to an old man, semi-retired, who may well have spent far too many years in a classroom.
I don't know that anyone had ever asked me that question before. I'm not even sure I'd thought about that kind of end-of-semester evaluation.
"Good," I told her. "It was a good life."
Had an air of finality about it, that answer did, like a hot wax seal on an ivory-colored envelope carrying a note of considerable heft. I surprised myself, in a way.
I don't know if she'll switch majors, but I walked away thinking that somehow I'd at least given her the right answer, the truth.
And it felt good that night, shutting the classroom door behind me.
And reading Liane Ellison Norman's poem the next day, this morning's thanks.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:34 AM