Mr. Gerald Smith, SJ, taught freshman English to the 37 boys of Class 1B. You know what 14-year-olds can be like. At their best – enthusiastic learners. At their worst – dull jocks.
I had straight A’s that year.
The English class syllabus was unassailable: writing, grammar, syntax, sentence diagramming (okay, that is outdated), vocabulary building, spelling (okay, that is somewhat outdated), reading novels, plays, short stories, and poems, and memorization and recitation out loud in front of class or from one’s desk. I can tell you every novel, play, short story, and poem we read.
The only thing lacking was a thorough examination of rhetorical devices, which I have added to my tutoring rubrics.
Smith was hysterical. He could laugh at himself, even when boys made fun of him. I did not notice it, but some saw effeminate mannerisms. At 13, I had noticed that about my 8th grade English teacher. He favored the girls (public school), so I did not like him anyway.
When Smith was made fun of, I did not like it. I liked him.
I was invited to join a Yahoo group consisting of some schoolmates.
With the passage of time and after much consideration, I had decided that among all the teachers I had accumulated during 20 years of education, he was the best.
However, after freshman year, I never saw Smith again, and I never heard about him.
I asked the group a question, “What happened to Gerald Smith?”
I was curious.
One classmate answered, “I worked with him in a lab.” Right away, I wondered why Smith was working in a lab.
The classmate continued, “He died of cancer and AIDS.”
Now, I was surprised.
I did not understand how this could be, but then I recalled what others had noticed and I had not.
I responded, “I’m so sorry to hear that. I wish I could have told Smith he was the best teacher I ever had, but now he is in heaven, where all is revealed, and he knows what I think of him.”
A second classmate responded, “How do you know he is in heaven? He definitely had issues.”
And that came from a Catholic!
I was “bouncing”, an old term meaning I was being kicked out of the group.
So be it.
If I had been given the chance to speak, I would have said the following:
“When you say issues, you mean sins. When you question his acceptance into heaven, you are talking like a heathen. Our Lord cautioned us about judging. How can you be so certain where he is? You yourself may have an issue or two that will keep you out of heaven. Are you divorced and remarried without an annulment? Are you living in a state of sin? Are you one of the boys who might say at a class reunion, ‘I haven’t been to confession in 40 years, and I don’t go to Mass?’ Have you reneged on your promise at Confirmation to remain faithful to Christ and His Church until death? What is the state of your health or your soul? Maybe, our lost Smith was Longinus before his death?”
After all the passing years, I wondered why no one had cared about him and why no one in the order had taken care of him.
And there it is.