Mr. Graham was one of the most remarkable teachers I ever had. He was the Drama teacher at my high-school and made an indelible mark on my life by creating a sense of belonging in an environment, where I often felt like a misfit.
He spoke in metaphors with a raspy British accent and inhaled Benson and Hedges like a chimney, just steps from the classroom door. Mr. Graham sported a spectacular assortment of vests and scarves, custom-made, only to be described as a cross between my grandmother’s so-bad-they’re-good brocade curtains from the seventies and Don Cherry’s weekly ensembles on Hockey Night.
He was unorthodox. He made every new student in his class learn to juggle and simultaneously perform poems like Robert Frost’s, The Road Not Taken, to teach us the importance of balance in life. He willed us to take brave leaps. To dare greatly in front of our peers despite our overwhelming fear of failure in the arena. In fact, it was common to hear him announce prophetically, “Fail gloriously!” Which, by the way, I have done on countless occasions and thought of him as my ego took the fall.
He was an inspiration to many students; however, to say he drove the school administration to near-insanity with his unconventional approach to education, would be an understatement.
He could never get my name quite right, despite years and years of working closely together on numerous drama projects and extensive small-group coaching for adjudicated festivals, always calling me Morgaine (think, King Arthur). Many times, throughout high-school, I longed for a more “regular” name like Jennifer or Sarah, but have grown to appreciate the uniqueness of my name.
Whenever I had dark days, he found unique ways to help me. One particularly difficult day at school, he handed me the keys to his vehicle and asked me to run an errand for him. This was most-certainly NOT part of the curriculum and would pose so many problems in today’s politically-correct landscape, but took me out of the confines of school for long enough to clear my head.
Near graduation, I decided to write a few exemplary teachers letters of gratitude and appreciation. Mr. Graham was at the top of my list, and although I don’t remember the exact wording of my letter, I’m certain I poured my heart out to him.
We stayed in touch. Years later, Mr. Graham got sick with terminal cancer. One day, I visited him; he was too weak leave his home by this point. His wife greeted me warmly at the door and guided me down the hallway to the bedroom where he lay surrounded by pillows. Before entering the room, I looked to my right. There, framed on the wall of the main hallway of his home was the letter I had written upon graduation. Moved and touched, I entered the room.