Now I can, so here goes.
A few days ago I lost one of the most influential people in my life.
His name was Mr. Hernandez.
His full name was Hilario Hernandez, but to me he will always be Mr. Hernandez.
He was my art teacher in Jr. High.
Ok. Middle School to you younger folk.
Mr. Hernandez was a great artist and a wonderful art teacher and those of us who were his students could go on and on about how he influenced us in art. But I believe his greatest talent was changing people's lives.
He was always challenging and motivating and opening our eyes.
He would quietly listen to us and respect us at a time when most kids were growing up with the adage that "children should be seen and not heard."
In all other classes, students were bolting out the door at the first sound of the dismissal bell. In Mr. Hernandez's class, when the dismissal bell rang students would gather around him, vying for his attention, hanging on his every word. He would have to chase students out of his class, telling them they would be late for their next class. Nobody cared. They would accept the consequences of being late to their next class, until Mr. Hernandez's next class would come in and push everyone else out.
But the number one thing I remember Mr. Hernandez for was how he personally changed my life.
Growing up I was the most painfully shy and unconfident young girl. I was so quiet and shy that, at the end of a semester, some fellow students confessed they had no idea that all that time I had been in their class.
I had no voice.
I was locked up in my own shell.
Although he never said anything specifically, I could tell Mr. Hernandez could see my condition and made it his personal challenge to get this scared 12 year old girl out of her shell.
He pushed me to speak up, to have an opinion, and to voice it out loud. He would sit in front of me and make me talk to him. Then he'd have others listen to me, until one day I could speak up for myself. I could joke around and be part of the crowd like everyone else, instead of just on the outside looking in.
That was the greatest thing that was every done for me.
It still took a lot of years of breaking out of that shell, but I will never forget that it was Mr. Hernandez that made that first effort to break me out of my self imposed prison.
That happened over 40 years ago.
That long ago and yet still I have carried Mr. Hernandez in my life and my heart as if he has always been physically present in my life. To this day anyone who knows me knows who I am talking about when I talk about Mr. Hernandez.
I had seen him twice since I graduated from Jr. High. The last time was 16 years ago when a group of about 12 of us former students visited him at his home where his wife served us a wonderful lunch and we talked and laughed over old times. Even then he was beginning to suffer some physical challenges but he didn't show it.
I heard over the years that his health was declining and I always wanted to visit him again but I never did. I could rail myself over that, but I won't. I can just say that I was so glad for that last wonderful time I saw him.
This past Sunday I was told that on Friday, February 5, Mr. Hernandez passed away.
I was devastated but my feelings quickly locked up. I tried writing about him, anything I could to get out the anxious feelings that were building up. Nothing worked.
All day yesterday I was a volcano of bottled feelings, wanting to erupt. I desperately wanted to go to the wake, hoping I could get those feelings out. At the same time, I was scared, not wanting to face his death.
Last night I went to his wake and I saw him for the last time.
But it was not a horrible, sad time. There was a slide show going on continually showing Mr. Hernandez in his great moments in life. They showed him older as he looked now in his mid seventies, but they also showed him when he was younger, in his early thirties, how I remember him when he was our teacher. In the sanctuary were many of his huge paintings that he had done over the years. Oh, if you could see his talent.
I talked with his wife and I was so surprised and overcome with joy to find that she remembered me, and that Mr. Hernandez had also remembered and sometimes spoken of me. I felt so honored.
The best thing about going to the wake was that, instead of dwelling on his death, I was able to remember all the wonderful things about his life and how he so positively changed others. I left one calm and grateful woman.
Now, instead of dwelling on the sadness of his death, I can remember the good times, the laughter, and how he so wonderfully changed my life.
And the best thing I can do is to remember what he did for me and carry on and to never lose hope.
So, not really good-bye Mr. Hernandez, but, in spirit, let's sit down again and talk, and let's get on with this business of life, challenging ourselves to be our best and passing on that challenge to others.
And thank you for those of you listening.
Here's hoping you've had a Mr. Hernandez in your life.
Better yet, let's now be that Mr. Hernandez to others.