Suddenly Gone




I learned how significant even a short-term friendship can be when an esteemed retired teacher unexpectedly appeared on my horizon in what turned out to be a developing but sadly unfulfilled relationship.

Dispensing personal time and editorial expertise, she advised largely aspiring writers in a free workshop where her golden rule was to emphasize there are no fools. She was a genuine find in sharpening tools of the writing craft.

She encouraged attendees but didn't disparage lesser pens as she dispensed counsel and literary principles with warmth, humor and skill. She possessed a gift for incisively spotting pedestrian prose. Just as important were her editorial suggestions to improve, energize and make narratives flow as well as tips on how to get manuscripts published.

The curtain-raising of my first offering of sacrifice on the altar of her experienced eyes turned out to be a confidence-builder with her comment, "You are a marvelous writer." Such a review was certainly welcome but I remained unsure; it didn't assuage my recurring doubts about my ability to handle critiques of my work though I had experienced the surgery of editors' pens during years of radio and press journalism.
She wouldn't hear of such an attitude; after reviewing more of my writing samples, she found them worthy and tried to persuade me to join a regional writers association. She was influential in the publication of one of my poems.

Similar enthusiasm and support pervaded our group as she convinced members to attend regularly and immersed us into her knowledge pot with a formula of genres, forms, voices and plots.

As she imparted the writing arts, exposure to her engaging personality and wise insights firmed up respect and the bonds of a promising friendship. I regarded her as the literary mentor I had long sought but beyond that a sense of a kindred spirit was imbued, perhaps stirred by something she saw in my wife and me. Her fascination with what she called our "unusual life" of years abroad prompted a lengthy interview keyed to details of our history so she could write about it. But it was not to be.

Her excitement about an impending trip abroad toned down and plans were postponed due to a physical flare up and apparent non-threatening surgery. That would require her absence from workshop sessions. She was unable to manage "walking from the parking lot to the workshop because of the pain," she told me.

She also recommended that I head up the workshop in her absence; "you can do it," she urged, and promised assistance from her home. I considered it but didn't see myself as capable in that role and declined.

I found it strange when our lines of communication faltered shortly afterwards. My e-mailed wishes for a fast recovery went unanswered and unexplained, contrary to regular cross-messages earlier.

Not long afterwards I was stunned when the bad news arrived: She hadn't survived the trauma of the surgery and rehabilitation, vanishing from our lives as abruptly as she had appeared.

Part of the pall that ensued was that time had run out before I had learned enough about her life and achievements as a book editor and teacher for many years. We had never gotten around to sufficient conversation about her career; she was riveted on the work of those who relied on her as a muse rather than her own resume. I only learned some details of her illustrious career in many years of English language teaching and book reviewing in a press account after her passing.

I paid a brief visit to our workshop chamber afterwards with hope that a substitute teacher would have been assigned to continue the sessions. I encountered a feeling of disappointment and loss when I found the room empty and dark, its lamp of knowledge snuffed out and the program terminated.

During my last meeting with our mentor, she had asked for prayers for a member of her family but not for herself. In her memory, I did apply for membership in the organization of writers she had recommended. About the same time, I experienced a pang when I came across a personal note attached to the application form she had mailed to me inscribed in her graceful hand: "I am so glad you joined our writing class."