Losing Yourself for the Better

Mrs. G. changed his name for privacy purposes but this is really him! Thanks Google.

When Mrs. G. was in college, she was flat out in love with Professor Wright. He didn't know she existed, but how could he when he had at least three hundred students in his Survey of Early American History. Mrs. G. was just a face in the crowd, a face in the crowd that wanted to kiss his at least fifty-year-old cheeks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when class was in session.

Professor Wright always wore a trench coat and lugged a battered brief case on his way to class. He had unruly salt and pepper hair and was constantly pushing his thick glasses back in place. He read while he was walking around campus, oblivious to those around him. He was a fixture on campus, so most students knew that if Professor Wright was strolling down the sidewalk with his nose in a book, to get the hell out of the way.

If you spoke to Professor Wright out of class or in his office, he came off as a shy, unassuming man who was a little uncomfortable in his skin. It was clear he was most satisfied inside his books. His office was overflowing with them.

But when this shy, unassuming man was lecturing about Agrarianism or the Civil War, he was in his element. He became alive, worked up, nearly beside himself. Every once in a while, when he was really into, say, the battle of Antietam or Shiloh, he would climb up on his desk, swing his arms around and smile, truly stirred by the extraordinary information he was sharing. When Professor Wright climbed up on his desk, the energy shifted in class. Some students, like Mrs. G, were into it, others snickered like he was a wack job, while still others just couldn't wrap their minds around the fact he was standing on university issued furniture. But Professor Wright's goal, Mrs. G thinks, was to bring history to life, fire his students up, and he mostly succeeded. One afternoon, a student had his head down on his desk sleeping, and Professor Wright threw a pencil at his head. Nobody felt bad for the guy because when Professor Wright was standing on his desk, shit was real.

Mrs. G. hasn't seen Professor Wright for over twenty years. She hopes he's still alive walking the streets of Eugene with his face in a book. It's hard not to admire the daring stoutheartedness it takes to climb up on a real or metaphorical desk and share your genuine self, what really makes you tick, even at the risk of being mocked. Professor Wright did that and Mrs. G. thanks him for it. And to this day she has a fervid attachment to personal passions, odd birds and unruly salt and pepper hair.

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Reader Comments (20)

Ohhhhhh boy Mrs. G - you might want to change the filename of the photo at least - I did a reverse image search and it didn't come up but it's probably only a matter of time. Sorry to be a downer - the story is great otherwise!

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMustang Sally

Mrs. G.
This is a great story.
I think this is a touching tribute to an educator. I think if he read it he would be so happy. Maybe you should consider finding him and sending a copy.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi B.

Thanks, Mustang Sally. I changed the file name. I'm like Naomi. This is a love letter of sorts from back in the day and should it get back to him, so be it. It's honest with no hyperbole. Nevertheless, thank you for making me realize that the file name counts, along with the notion that being careful is prudent. Who knew so much info could be gathered by a photo. Goo, thing I don't work for the NSA,

April 24, 2014 | Registered CommenterMrs. G.

This made me weepy because my dad was a professor and because I don't think I've ever stood on a real or metaphorical desk. I need to get crackin'. I'm no spring chicken.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterL.

This is one of my favorite things you have ever written. The metaphor of climbing on that desk is one I will not soon forget. Delurking to say thank you for all the years of laughter and thought.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElisa (lurker)

may we all, at some point in our lives, stand and influence others with our passion.
A good reminder that even with all that is out there we as people count.
carry on.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermeredith@whynot

I had a teacher in HS like that. Taught "problems of modern man" and believe me he was on top of real and metaphorical desks. Having returned from Viet Nam , his "shit" was real and he made us forever think about our impact on the world. 40 years later I still remeber him telling us about losing his best friend. Powerful stuff, amazing man and gifted educator. Thank you Mr. Nagy whever you are.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbramble

I meant GOOD thing I don't work for the NSA!

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermrs. g.

Lovely tribute, Bramble.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermrs. g.

In a way, when you tell stories here on your blog, it is also like climbing on a desk and share yourself. Thanks

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVĂ©ronique

I was only going to post that you need a "like" button, no more words are needed. Then I noticed my name in your comment, so I add, thanks, you sweet thing.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternaomi d

I love it! I hope all of us have experienced someone like him in our early academic lives! I know I did. He was my Ancient Greek and Roman History professor at Ohio State, and I don't remember his name, but, boy oh boy, I sure got up for that eight am class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Thanks for sharing your memory, and for reviving mine!

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

He sounds like my kind of teacher! Thanks for sharing.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterauntjone

Add me to his fan club. He sounds marvelous.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreen Girl in Wisconsin

Mr. Barker of my high school American Lit class was my Mr. Wright, and I think of him nearly every day as I teach high schoolers. I hope maybe I'll be someone's story someday, even though I've only managed to stand on chairs so far.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. G. <3

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie (bad mom)

Like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, only REAL. What a lucky student you were, Mrs. G.

I had a history teacher like that. Her name was Mrs Jarman, and she was my favourite teacher....was extraordinary to see someone teaching with such passion.

April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHay

I was a History major in undergrad and had a few professors like this. One in particular was around 95*, wore the requisite tweed blazer with elbow patches, and had wild flyaway hair that he probably forgot to brush. His speciality was British history and every semester, when he gave his lecture on Henry VIII and how he changed religion to suit his needs, the auditorium was full, with outsiders coming in for the show. The lecture was totally without notes -- the professor spoke non-stop for 90 minutes and by halfway through, his face was red, the sweat was rolling down his cheeks, and he had spit flying with every other sentence. He was angry with King Henry 400 years after the fact and he was not afraid to show it. It was magic.

(* Okay, he was probably in his 60s, but he seemed ancient to 20 y.o. me.)

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen on the Edge

My kid's at U of O AND he's a history major. I'll ask if this sounds familiar ;)

May 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteredj

Professor Godchaux, with the same old shiny-butt gray suit every day from Spring til frost. His milieu was Shakespeare, and if any subject calls for desk-jumping, I think that one would be it. He'd get into such a lather, swinging an imaginary sword, plucking the dagger from the air, and when he cut loose on Tomorrow AND tomorrow AND tomorrow---had it not been forty years before that Dead Poets' Society, I've no doubt we'd have all jumped up shouting, "Oh, Captain! My Captain!"

I was first-of-the-alphabet, and in the middle, and so stared eye-to-crotch with him on occasion, as he gestured and preached, and even on one memorable morning when the stirs and titters of levity were coming from all around the room, I furtively hissed, "ZIP UP!" and without a beat, he swept around, back to the room, made the necessary adjustments, and missed not a word of " . . do we not bleed?"

When I read Shakespeare today, I find myself using his inflection, if just in my mind, and when I get to the good parts, I half-expect to hear the creak of that old wooden armchair, as he levered himself atop the desk.

I wonder does every college have one of these.


May 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrachel d

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