Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Letter To My Teacher

Dear Doctor Wooton

Finding then reading your email late last night brought me such an immense pleasure. It must be nearly impossible for you to remember me after all this time. In fact, it's been twenty eight years since I sat in the back of your class. As my teacher, I must let you know how you influenced at least this one student of yours.

I was a City Planning major at USL. American Literature was a required course and I approached the prospect with predictable trepidation. English was not in fact my second language but my third after Arabic and French. I was a twenty-year-old Syrian student who came from a small city by the sea and who dreamed of going to college in America. I was also an ordinary reader of modern Arabic poetry and translated mystery novels when I took your class. Within weeks, and thanks to you, I was transported to an exquisite world of words, one which I never willed to leave since. I had my true revelation when you introduced us to "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot. This poem changed me forever and through the years I must have read it hundreds of times. It evokes the same sense of awe and humanity in me today as it did back then.

Halfway through the course, with straight A's in quizzes and the midterm you announced that: "Abufares is exempted from taking the final exam with a well deserved A." I was the only foreign student in that room and you had no idea what your recognition had done to my self-confidence back then.

I later pursued my Master's degree, became a Graduate Teaching Assistant in my department and enrolled in a Writing course of yours. I chose to translate four poems by Nizar Qabbani (1923 -1998), the most influential Syrian poet of the 20th century, into English. In your notes on the side of one of my papers, you scribbled something like "read, read, read..." and I have not stopped reading till today. Then once, during a short discussion we had after class about "imagism", you asked me to attempt to write a few short poems. I remember only one as I have lost all of my papers and bits of my memory with the torturous passage of time.

To My so-called Aunt Dolly

twenty-two years separate us
but between your lips and mine
when we kiss
years are crushed
and they die


Almost three decades later and after the few hundreds of "English" books I have read, "... after the cups, the marmalade, the tea" and when I was finally able to momentarily free myself from the burdens of labor and every day's obligations I started my blog. In reply to your question about my writing career I still do not have one but that could change one day. I waded through my first words on this blog and continue to derive delightful fancy from my interaction with readers. A few months ago I took my first plunge into fiction as a co-writer of an online tale by the name of Sea Side with Mariyah, a most inspirational woman and a beautiful writer beyond my meager words. I would be thrilled if my English professor of old chooses to take a look at our story, not for the sake of vanity but rather as a token of appreciation on my part for what you have taught and instilled in me.

Thank you Professor for writing to me. I am honored.

Yours
Abufares

29 comments:

Neetu said...

hi abufares,
reading you is always a pleasure but reading about your experience is far more than just enjoy and pleasure to me. You are right sometimes someone makes such an impact on us that we can never forget.With best wishes always....

BIL said...

Once again you have managed to sum up the inter-woven bonds that transient the time when one can look back at those “special” people which have had an enormous impact on our lives. I think we all can say to ourselves that there was one, maybe two of those teachers in our past that have helped shaped us into who we are today. Unlike you, English was my sole language (somewhat of a shame). For being able to delve into another tong enables one to open an entirely new world of literature therefore giving one a chance to explore that culture. I think today’s problems we face in the world could be somewhat minimized if all of us would “explore” the other culture(s) and in doing so, we would find our true psyche is more or less the same. Maybe, just maybe …. There would not be so many conflicts of a useless nature in this world today. But my hat is off to your professor, he obviously did a splendid job in his mentoring back then.

Chris said...

Aha
See the difference between most USA teachers and most of our teachers?
Superb / Idiot
There / Here

Chris said...

I remembered something that i think the Prophet pbuh said, switch idiot with regular o_O
sry, but you know how pissed some guys get when they remember bakaloria

KJ said...

You know abufares, I had one teacher who, like your teacher, changed my views on life forever and instilled a deep sense of self confidence in me which I miserably miss today.

I feel shameful to have disgraced her memory with my plain nonsense, empty words and writing devoid of meaning or value.

She wished, rather knew, I would grow up old on a rocking chair writing Hallmark cards (back when they were good) among other wonders of fiction.

May her soul rest in peace, and may her vision - which I also dream of - come true.

Gabriela said...

I'm pretty sure, my dear friend, that Mr Wooton is honored too. If he is the one who inspired you to read and, consequently, to (superbly) write, he must be an exquisite teacher. The kind of teacher one never forgets.
I guess we all owe him for at least one of his students.
Saludos desde Lima.

Mariyah said...

This letter to Dr. Wooton is beautiful on several levels. On one that Dr. Wooton was such an excellent and inspirational teacher and that he instilled such confidence, eagerness, and determination in at least one of his students...but I'm sure there were many others. On another that we have now learned about the growth and blossoming of one of the most beautiful writers I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and (oh lucky me) to be writing with. And on yet another level, once again, my dear, you have shown how big your heart is. Many people fondly remember teachers who positively influenced their lives, but few bother to write to them to express their thanks. How very thoughtful and very touching. Thank you so much, Abufares, for sharing this with us.

abufares said...

@Neetu
I'm so glad you decided to drop by my blog.
Teachers are supposed to leave an impact. When the impact is positive and memorable it means that they have succeeded in delivering their message.
And, there is no messenger like a teacher.

abufares said...

@BIL
When I was a little kid my father taught me that with every language we learn be become one more person. This is exactly how he phrased it. You know Arabic and French you equal 2 people. You know English as well, you equal 3.
It's so true as my core character is indeed the result of the languages I have learned over the years. Even the little Spanish I know makes me sway to a tune and enjoy music differently.
My professor's main success in my case was his ability to transform me from a student under obligation to take a course to one who still enjoys English literature after all these years.

abufares said...

@Chris
I had good and mediocre ones here and there. Only a few deserve the title of Teacher. It's not to be taken lightly.

abufares said...

@KJ
The ironic thing about my English teacher is that we never had a close or personal relationship. I had 2 or 3 professors in my department who remained my friends over the years. Dr. Wooton probably doesn't remember me. I was not an English major but he made me fall in love with the subject matter.
Today my retreat from work, the absurdities of being and intellectual pollution is a good book. If I hadn't taken that course with him I would've probably never acquired this privilege. I mean I learned French much earlier than English and Arabic even before that. No one before him taught me to read.

abufares said...

@Gabriela
I think deep inside any teacher strives for recognition not in a ceremonial fashion but rather through a "Thank You" from a student he barely remembers.
In a reply to a comment earlier this year, I mentioned Dr. Wooton to an English teacher who complimented me on my writing. Dr. Wooton had apparently came across my reply, wrote to me and thanked me for acknowledging his role in my writing.
This post is to thank him for his letter and to explain why I still remember him with such esteem and respect.

abufares said...

@Mariyah
Now that you're here the whole world is more beautiful:-)

I was a teacher once and among the very few regrets I have is that I abandoned that noble profession. I taught for 2 years as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and derived extreme pleasure in my interaction with students. I'm happy to tell you too that I succeeded in instilling in a few of them the significance of accepting others and not passing judgment based on geographical, ethnic and religious biases.

If you think you're lucky to be writing with me you should already know how I feel about it... but I'm sure you do ;-)

Chris said...

@abuf
True very true
True teachers deserve much more respect than they are getting
Muhammad (s) has alot of ahadiths about such things

BIL said...

Your Father was and still is very wise man…trust me I know – from my vantage point, he holds a very special place in many lives. Later in life, I had the pleasure of living abroad in Germany for 30 some years learning their language and literature and his observation is most correct {;-)

Anonymous said...

i loved my teachers except one of them who was the most false person I ever met, that was the teacher of religion,

Omar said...

What a wonderful letter Abufares. I can imagine just how Dr. Wooton must feel when he reads it, and especially after he reads your posts and Sea Side.

I think it's safe to say to everyone has at least one teacher like Dr. Wooton. Teachers that inspire us, and open our eyes to a world that was unknown to us before we met them.

Allie said...

It's a beautiful letter, Abufares.

abufares said...

@lê
We always tend to remember the brilliant ones and the very dumb...
I had a few of those too.

abufares said...

@Omar
When a teacher stirs the imagination and the curiosity of his students she has succeeded in fulfilling her role in life.
This is it plain and simple. Benevolence, amiability and friendliness are nice too, for all people to have, but a teacher who had these qualities but doesn't inspire is just another nice guy.

abufares said...

@Allie
Thank you for coming by, always:-)

Katia said...

A genuine "thank you" is probably the most beautiful tribute a teacher can get.

You made me feel like writing to the few teachers who inspired me like that. But somehow, just like KJ, I don't have the confidence to do so now...

abufares said...

@Katia
Somehow you and KJ need a push/shove to get you back on track.
I'm sure they will be delighted so stop making excuses ;-)

Isobel said...

Well, if this is the man to thank for inspiring you to write...then I want to thank him too.

Thank you, Dr. Wooton, I wouldn't want to imagine a world without Abufares's words. It's so much richer and delightful. :)

Another wonderful post, Abufares! How heartwarming.

abufares said...

@Isobel
I wouldn't/couldn't imagine a world without yours.
Thank you for making it so much more meaningful.

Anonymous said...

We are honored ,Abu Fares ya Trtoussi, to read your nice writings !
You and Isobel, I try to read your posts and comments as well;

Thank you .

abufares said...

@Anonymous
The honor is all mine.
Thank you for the kind words, really... thank you.

Fantasia Lillith said...

I would say you do have a career in writing. Just because you are not paid, nor bound in paper does not make you less than an author. An excellent one at that as this post confirms.

abufares said...

@Fantasia
Your comments are as good as your posts, which btw I greatly miss.