This story brought such tears to my eyes…
READ IT! NOW!….
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This article hit a nerve. You’ll see my comment at the bottom — limited to the Huff Post’s 250 word count — but here’s the long version.
When I was in high school I had an English teacher, Mr. Flannery. It was senior year when I was supposed to be mentally checked out, yet he his class was one of the most engaging classes I participated in during my high school career. He covered interesting material and he did it all with passion. And he was fun!!
He was the type of teacher who would give sarcastic, mocking responses to stupid questions or make fun of himself when he made an error. He was also the type of teacher who tried to connect with his students — not in the “I can be hip and cool like you” way, but on a personal level. He told us stories — stories about his homeland, Ireland, stories about his family and travels and stories about his bladder cancer. Yeah, he was fighting the big C. He had done the chemo thing, etc, putting him in remission, or as close to remission as he was going to ever get, from what I remember.
I remembered him talking about his trips to the Dr and the support he got at home from his family. I remember fighting back tears. Yet, his stories were always told in a tone that said “Don’t be sad guys; I’m not!” He would drink bottle after bottle of water, jetting out spontaneously to the bathroom. Some days we would watch movies; those were his “I’m not up for teaching” days.
What I was too immature, or emotionally closed off, to appreciate at the time, was how he never let cancer get in the way of him doing what he loved to do — teach! It didn’t stop him from trying to get to know each and every one of us. It didn’t discourage him from encouraging us to pursue our dreams — and more so, our talents.
I did well in his class, and participated — which is not common for seniors. He asked me one day, “What are you majoring in next year?”
“Nah, you are going to be an English major.”
Laughing. “Nah, I want to make money Mr Flannery.”
“Yeah, ok. You’ll see. You are meant to study English,” he said with a bottle of water in hand and his signature chuckle.
This went on for months, till I graduated and went on to study accounting in college.
It wasn’t until I got an analytical paper back from my freshman English composition professor stating “You should consider majoring in English” that I reconsidered Mr. Flannery’s persistent insight. I went back to my high school during break to show him. He was out sick, battling cancer — with a smile I am sure. I left the paper in his mailbox with a note, “I thought you’d appreciate this!”
The next time I went back he was out sick, again — this time permanently. He had retired to battle his battle on his own schedule. A decision, I know was not easy. Teaching us pain-in-the-asses was his passion.
I don’t know how long it was after, but I heard from a teacher-friend that he had passed away.
Years later, I cried again. I had quit accounting and was in grad school studying to become a writer. He had been right; I was meant to study English. And I wanted him to know. The only man I’ve ever wanted to say “you are right” to — and I couldn’t. Oh, the irony!
Teachers are supposed to recognize and encourage a student’s talents. But he took is a step further and recognized not only what I was good at, but what motivated me. He recognized my need for fulfillment and where I would find that. Basically, he knew what I needed to be happy… way before I had any bloody clue what that was. To me, that’s more than a teacher. I only wish I had gotten to know him as more than just my teacher.
Now, reading this article, I have more tears in my eyes. Mr. Flannery didn’t have blood cancer, but he fought with the C-word… and he did it with an unfaltering positivity and acceptance. He is just one more reason, one more person, I am running this long-ass half-marathon. My run and the money I raise may not be able to help him, but it can help someone else’s Mr. Flannery.
I’m with Emily. I am running… well, because I can. And if you can, why not? Right?
Here’s to you Mr. Flannery!! Keep on smiling.
Oh, and Mr. Flannery, you were right. I was meant to study English.