The Greatest Teacher I Ever Had
I am here to pay tribute to the best teacher I ever had. This teacher was extraordinary, although he never stood at a lectern, wrote no books, essays, or articles. He never gave a speech or a sermon, made no power-point presentations, no closing arguments, never proposed legislation. He may never have even held a piece of chalk.
Yet he taught me the most important things in life. Yes, I’m talking about my professor, Nicholas Quinia Arango.
How could this little bundle of crooked bones, dreadful scars, sinew, and a body that mostly didn’t work ever be a teacher? A person who couldn’t speak, couldn’t hold a pen to write, couldn’t walk, was often in pain—how could he ever teach anyone anything?
Yet he taught all of us who were privileged to know him the basics of a life well lived, the fine arts of patience, gratitude, humility, perseverance, fortitude, optimism, forbearance, the lasting value of sharing, and the pricelessness of a good laugh.
He was a tough little booger.
When I am down about something, especially those things I can’t change, I remember Nick’s beatific smile. I don’t remember him ever complaining, whining, feeling sorry for himself. And he had more reason than anyone to be pissed off, or dejected, or sad, or frustrated, or resentful about his lot in life.
His mother, my sister Polly, often said, “want what you have.” I’m not sure I understand what she meant by that, but Nick did. He was happy with what he had. Yes, he was captive in a broken body he knew he’d never escape—not in this life, anyway. But he was surrounded by people who loved him, who cherished him, who took wonderful care of him, who knew he loved to laugh, who took delight in what delighted him—little kids and babies, Batman movies, goofy toys, holiday decorations, love songs, puppies, blondes.
Was there ever a person more loving? A person more loved? At last week’s viewing, a little boy left a doll baby in Nick’s coffin with him. He surely treasured that little doll, but wanted Nick to have it, so he wouldn’t be alone.
Nick is not alone. And neither are we. He’s not really gone—unless and until we forget all he taught us.
Author: Martha Egans