As I've grown, learned (and explored the possibilities of writing in my career) there have been amazing teachers and mentors who have supported and guided me on the way.
One such teacher was Gary McCown. I took 11th grade English with him -- and I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest and most frustrating classes that I have ever had. He was adamant that we all speak in class discussions. He insisted that we take careful notes on everything he said -- which proved to be absolutely necessary if you wanted to pass one of his mind-wrenching exams.
But through that annoying, demanding year, Gary taught my classmates and I how to read the Bible as a piece of literature. He showed us the delicate nuances of argument. He would jump on tables when he got excited about a particular point, whether it was an argument made by Martin Luther King or something from Genesis.. He would make gyrating motions with his hips when we talked about sex scenes - especially those in the Bible that lacked any sexy descriptions whatsoever.
My senior year of high school, Gary offered to write one of my college recommendation letters. But first, he insisted that we sit down and talk at great length about what I intended to get out of my college experience. I don't remember what that discussion included, but I recall how thrilled I was to be interviewed by this dynamo of a man.
During college and after I graduated, whenever I would visit the high school (usually to pick up my sister), I would look for Gary. He was a fascinating character to me and I enjoyed our brief, eclectic conversations. He once suggested that I teach English at the school, "just until I sort things out" when I was job hunting, post-college. After he retired, I saw Gary at both my 10th reunion and my sister's 5th reunion.
Gary and my sis
I found out this afternoon that Gary passed away a few days ago. This is not the first of my mentors to 'depart this mortal coil', but it's one I feel enormously.
(Please excuse errors that I would usually not allow in my writing -- this has shaken me quite a bit.)