I woke to a blizzard over New York City and the news that my high-school teacher and dear friend Jean McBean had passed.
Sitting now twenty-six stories up, I watch the snowflakes spin and circle in great mists over Manhattan. A collision of memories, emotions, and lessons seem to echo the dance.
I recall now how Jeanie clocked me my first week of high school (alongside English teacher Geoff Mace) and quite magically created an environment for me– and countless other creative minded kids– where it was possible to forge and foster a creative-self. This in a school where rugby and more singular machismo-minded activities prevailed.
From the age of 14 Jean treated us like equals, adults and friends. She created the most fecund base for us to grow: a soil nourished as it was by love, knowledge and this unfaltering belief she had in our respective abilities and interests.
I am thinking now of the word legacy. What Jean has left behind, what of her will live on through the hundreds (if not thousands) of students she engaged and connected with over her lifetime as mentor and friend.
I’m thinking now what this word really means and how although Jeanie is now no longer with us, hundreds of reflective shards of her glimmer in past students scattered across the globe, hundreds of snowflakes each on their own delirious flight pattern, hundreds of seeds that were nurtured at that impressionable age and that have gone on to prosper now into fully fledged trees.
When my play Abnormal Loads was published a few years ago, I could think of no better person to dedicate the creative labour to.Such an opus would not have been possible without the love of history, literature and film she had given me.
She taught me History for five years in a row, she understood that the only way to make the subject live was by wrenching it out of the past, casting off the mothballs and setting it on fire in the present day imaginations of learners.
She was a winsome, melancholic and deeply thoughtful being (Bean) who often reminded us–through irrefutable Historic evidence– how full of bullshit the world was and is. She taught us that if we were ever to try fix it, we would need to constantly empathise, interrogate and question.
She taught us that creative outputs/responses were often the best (perhaps the only) means to achieve this. She taught us that such reflections could help us transcend the bullshit, albeit for a stanza of song…. verse of poem…. duration of a film”¦.. we could be lifted (we could lift others) we could see beyond the blizzards of mediocrity and stupidity.
She taught me that affording someone that fleeting moment of flight”¦ catharsis”¦.. insight was a vocation worth spending ones lifetime pursuing.
It is Jeanie that reminds me today why teaching is the most noble and profound profession of them all. It is her “Legacy” that has allowed her to outwit death for her lessons continue, instilled in all of us and shared with others and so it goes, along the line, branching upward and outward through the trajectory of time.
Antoine de Saint-ExupÃ©ry once wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Jeanie not only single-handedly built the boat, instilled in each one of us the longing for that immeasurable immensity but she also gently nudged each one of our rafts from the shore, setting us on journeys around the world, journeys’ that are an ongoing testament to all she is… was and will forever be.
I sit here in New York pursuing my own play-writing dreams and watching this snow ballet from the 26th floor because of her.
Now the blizzard clears
Snowflakes’ melt on sidewalks.
Thank you Mrs McBean for the enduring and endless immensity of your lessons.
Neil, what a moving tribute to a lady held in equally high regard by all who knew her! I didn’t know her personally (although I met her a few times over the last decade or so), but I have always known her by reputation. She has certainly left a legacy – a score of memories and gratitude in all whose lives she touched as she touched yours.