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
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
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."