Monday, December 2, 2013

Alice Mielcarek: My Teacher

I'm sad right now. One of my favorite people from my past — has passed away. It actually happened just over two years ago. And I only just learned of it because, sitting here, sipping some wine, reminiscing, smiling at her influence in my life, I suddenly, on a whim, on a lark decided, I'm going to write her! 

I speak of Alice Mielcarek, my Creative Writing teacher back in Madison East High School, in Madison, WI.

She wasn't that old in 1984, was she? There's a reasonable chance she's still alive, I thought and hoped.

I had taken a Creative Writing class from her my Senior Year. In the course of that year I wrote many things for her and came to cherish receiving them back with her comments. She was gentle, but real. She was brilliant and challenged me to grow in writing mechanics, ability, and in sheer humanity. She was a true teacher. She told me that I had promise as a writer. And in the years that followed I have achieved some limited success at it. And so, this evening, I was suddenly inspired to thank her and tell her about all that has happened since all those years ago.

A Google search on the parameters: Mielcarek, Madison, Writing, found the following article at the Daily Kos.

And I knew immediately. Not only was Mrs. Mielcarek dead, but I had missed by two years telling her how great an impact she had on my life.


I'm so angry — at myself — that at no point in the last thirty years did I reach out to her to express just how important she was to me.

As I read the article by Mr. Anderson, I learn that he actually never had the privilege I enjoyed. He credits her with influencing him for the better and regrets that he never took her class! I was in her class. I had an entire year with her. And what a blessing she was!

I will say this — I was so very off on my perception of her age because of the amazing life force that flowed out of that woman. Here is her obituary. She lived to the fine old age of 81.

So, who am I?

Well, today I'm a high school teacher, like Alice was. 

I teach Latin at a public high school in New Jersey. I like to say that anyone who thinks the world is going to hell in a hand-basket simply doesn't know enough young people. My worst student is basically the same kid that sat in Mrs. Mielcarek's room. And my best are better scholars and citizens than I was until my twenties. I remember her patience and just deep genuine kindness. I hope I show forth even a tiny measure of the same.

I would describe myself still as a wanna-be writer. Alongside my PhD in Biblical Hebrew and Arabic, I published a number of academic articles. My biggest commercial credit is that I am the author of Intermediate Arabic for Dummies. The fiction novels I've written were acts of love for ideas that brewed within me for years. I have not yet achieved true commercial success with my fiction but I loved writing those books. Mrs. Mielcarek was fully responsible for inspiring me to work and persist in the craft of writing.

And so, Alice Mielcarek. I deeply regret never telling you these things on this side of eternity. All I can do now is pour out these words and hope that somehow in the spiritual world they can yet reach you.

You changed my life. I count it as a privilege to have known you, let alone to have studied under your guidance. And yet I know, in my youthful arrogance, that I wasted much of that time. Pray for me, please, as I attempt to both fulfill all the expectations you had of me and also imitate your example as I teach a new generation.

Alice, requiescas in pace et lux perpetua luceat tibi.
May you rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon you.