Mr. Williams

“That’s why I make good ‘Ws’,” he tells me with sudden intensity, his little face brightening. We are practicing the alphabet, my 6 year old grandson and I. He has left his teacher back in Canada – Mr. Williams – and is now living with me in Mexico. I resist the temptation to feel jealous of Mr. Williams. None of my students have ever pined away for me! Today is ‘Día de los Maestros’, Teacher Day, in Mexico, and instead of honoring his Mexican teachers at the nearby school he continues to laud with little-boy reverence the virtues of Mr. Williams. Whenever we do ‘art’ together, and it’s then that his attention usually settles, he swerves off his usual themes and on to Mr. Williams. “Can we make a ‘cart’ for him and send it in the mail?” he wants to know.

I can imagine Mr. Williams as a man who radiates inner freedom: he is open to every day and each moment. He is a teacher-musician with neither commanding presence or manipulative authority. And my grandson loves him almost as much as he loves his current Marvel heroes like Ironman and the Hulk and ‘Thorn’ (Thor). What do they have in common? They are all gifted individuals with interesting careers, Mr. Williams with his guitar and Thor with his hammer, saving the world from destructive influences. Right now after decades of teaching I am undergoing chemotherapy. Was it my folly, I wonder, that brought this dilapidation so suddenly upon me? I competed with other teachers in my middle school, often without realizing it, and became so concerned with my identity that I was constantly striving to be the best I could be. Like others I ran education’s gauntlet of many killers and it set me on the road to rivalry and competition. I considered suffering annoying at best and expended much energy in denial, preferring instead to doing that which would affirm my identity. My busyness fed that denial as it did to all the other gauntlet runners; my quick ability to deal with problems, often accompanied by a score of mental and emotional “stunts”, sprung forth like dragon’s teeth to meet each challenge along the way. I felt invincible. Years later when I left Canada I stepped off that shore of anxiety and unhappiness, and now I stand in another country, whose bright sun shows every flaw and whose air inspires freedom and happiness. I like to think of the little school next door as an abode of light, and that the easy-going Mr. Williams would feel comfortable within. I hope he visits and brings his guitar.

“W” for … “Wonderful”…