Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Thompson,

I have just returned from seeing you for what I think will be the last time, although your memories and gifts of friendship will fill my heart forever.

It was hard to enter the room.

It was even harder to leave.

The drive home with your broken-hearted friend; a fog.

It was hard to remind your friend, of thirty years, to stay focussed on the fact that you are still here: for a brief glimmering moment, and to take the finite time, to retrace some glorious memories spent, before you silently leave.

My heart is sad for what will be lost.

And while I contemplate what will be lost, I want to tell you what I have through you.

I was so fortunate to have you as my grade five teacher. I think of you in your powder blue suits, your gold glasses,your marvellous Gyanese accent and the sound of your melodic laughter. I think of eyes with compassion and a strong self assured person who could command thirty, crazy, high-strung kids, with the greatest of ease.

Grade five was a blessing. Your class was a reflection of you. I loved how you would start our day with a current events story. Everyday, you would pull down the map point to the country in question and talk, lecture about the events of the day it was all so fluid, so spontanious, so rich. You knew so much. You never talked down, or looked down, you always opened up horizons and borders, enlightened us about countries and traditions abroad. We would sit on the carpet and marvel at how what would appear to be a 'simple news' story brought in by a student, could and would be so much grander in its ramifications on the world's stage.

I loved how you found humour in your disciplining the 'rabble rousers'. I loved how you had a rubber billyclub that you nick named 'The Persuader'. I loved that you would pull out from under your desk, and with a walk of a king, you would hit the bully club in the palm of your hand for dramatic effect, and while it squeaked you would walk over to the rabble rouser and stand over the offending body. You never hit anyone, but that Persuader always had kids in fits of laughter when the Persuader had to be called upon.

I remember on the day you became a legend, when you saw John Betley get ready to send a spit ball over to Ricky Collins, the Persuader was pulled out, we all marvelled at how you 'knew' what was about to happen even though you had never looked up from your desk and Ricky Collins swallowed the spitball rather than admit that he was indeed a rabble rouser.

A great deal was learned in your class, far beyond the three R's. Your classes were great lecture halls, you encouraged minds to explore, you encouraged respect for others, you taught that we all had social responsibility to each other and the community.

I loved it when you had 'yard duty'. Ingrid, Maria and I, would love these times as we would hang out with you in the school yard, follow you around and hear your opinions on our concerns and fears.

I loved the fact that you gave us gangly gals; us oddballs; the monniker of 'Leon's Angels' and through this monniker we felt so special, so important, and so loved.

I adored how you would sing 'Maria' from Westside Story, to Maria. Whenever I hear that song, I am instantly brought back to the ole schoolyard and your beautiful voice and how it was sung with a smile of the heart. A time of true happiness with a fun, compassionate, caring, teacher.

Ever so often when I walk through the my old school grounds I can envision you standing in your beige parka holding court.

I loved how you stood up for what was 'right and just'. You always were a believer in education. No child was ever left behind. No child was lost in the masses. I can marvel at the fact some thirty year later, during our lunches, you can tell me every single one of your students strong suits. You could even tell me the profession of some of your students through intuition, you were never wrong. I was always so surprised at how we all mattered.

After your Leon's Angels moved on to post secondary education, you were promoted, and then promoted again, and again, to where you were one of the big cheese's of education. You were always a humble person. You were always true to your profession and calling. You never lost sight of the task at hand and that was the education of children. And even when you retired you still helped with literacy, how you still volunteered your time to teach children so that they may reach their true potential. How lucky and fortunate those children were to have you by their side.

You were a great man who gave many a child wings so that they may go forward and add to the world. Everyone has something to give, sometimes a child may need a bit more time to see it. And you always made the time through gentle persuasion, to open a child's heart up when they were discouraged and to bring them back to the books to enlighten their souls.

You were a favourite by many, as you did see light in all of us no matter how foggy it may have seen to us at the time..

I was so blessed for that fact that we reconnected five years ago. I have loved our lunches together as adults. I have adored the time with you and Wayne and Bill. Who would have thought that I would have the honour of being a friend to my grade five and six teacher, as well as my gym teacher? It strangely felt like family. It always felt like I was meeting with my 'oddball uncles'. I loved how you would meet me around Scooter's schedule. Always in my neck of the woods, I loved how all of you had a vested interest in my daughter and of my stories of our beleaguered school system. I loved how you 'knew' Scooter through me. And how when I told you of the story of Scooter's race, you laughed, gave that all knowing look you could give, and reassured me that 'Scooter is just like her mom as a kid.'

I loved the friendship. I cherished it. And I loved the wee notes you would send of encouragement, they were always filled with great wisdom and insight. You were always so supportive to me in all my endeavours.

And now, Mr. Thompson, I am so sorry you are leaving us.

I am so sorry for all that the world will lose in your passing. A true hero. A true educator, who gave wings and futures to so, so many.

I am so sorry that we will not have another lunch together.

I am so very happy, blessed and honoured that you were my friend and my teacher.

You were one of a kind.

And you have left your mark with so many and for that I should feel blessed, and I truly do.

But at present, I find it hard to get beyond the loss of you as I leave you behind in the hospital.

So with all due respect Mr. Thompson,( I could never call you Leon, as much as you berated me to) in all due respect Mr. Thompson. I shall miss you.

But for whatever it means, you gave me wings, Mr. Thompson.

You made me part of who I am today.

You taught me a great deal when I was a kid, you continued to teach and support me as an adult.

I thank you, thank you, the earth has lost a true angel, Mr. Thompson.

And God's Speed, dear friend.

The heavens certainly will welcome you with open arms, as you certainly helped a great many spirits, soar.