This morning, I received an email that was so very sad. The best teacher I ever had has fallen ill and is seeking help. I feel so powerless, I don't know what to say.
Ms. Lane, my high school journalism teacher, has Stage IV ovarian cancer. What's more, she recently left my old high school -- and teaching -- to become an administrator at a different school. She's non-tenured, already out of sick days, and trying to figure out how to cope with it all.
I saw Ms. Lane recently, at my induction into the West Essex High School Hall of Academic Distinction. Go ahead and laugh. I did, too, when Ms. Lane called me a couple of years ago to tell me she wanted to nominate me for the Hall. "I'm a sportswriter," I said. "You're joking, right?"
Turns out, Ms. Lane was not joking. She told me she'd followed my career (I hate even calling it my "career"...it's my job), from Sports Illustrated to the New York Daily News to ESPN The Magazine and she had shown her journalism students my work through the years.
She nominated me...and I was inducted.
And when I saw her in October at the banquet, man, was she proud. She introduced herself to my wife, gave her a hug, asked to see pictures of my children. She hugged my parents.
She told me (I graduated more than 20 years ago) that she regretted not nominating me for some senior award. I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. We both laughed.
It was so humbling, really. It's a long time ago, high school, but Ms. Lane was, let's just say, the only teacher who convinced me I could do this...do what I do...for a living. She didn't just talk it, either. She was our school newspaper advisor and she pushed me to make my stories better. To do more reporting. To write more vividly. "You're happy with that?" she'd ask, often, when she knew I'd mailed it in. So, it was back to work, trying to make the story...the paper...better.
The two or three of us who actually cared about the paper would work odd hours, trying to make deadlines. Ms. Lane was not averse to coming to school on the weekends to hammer things out. She would guide us well-past the hours when everyone else had gone home. She didn't have to.
Ms. Lane was also the teacher who took the time to ask me about things other than my grades. She wanted to know what, exactly, it was that I was looking for in college...and in life. I told her I wanted to write...maybe books...maybe for a newspaper...maybe a magazine...of course, I had my doubts. I was no ace. Certainly not one of the "gifted and talented" ones. Just a kid who liked sports and words who wondered if there was any way... Nah, it was a pipe dream. Right?
"If I were to tell you anything," Ms. Lane wrote in my yearbook, "I would tell you to work hard at what you enjoy. I hope to see your name in print, Jeff. May you possess all of the earth and the sun. There are millions of suns left."
I pray now that there are millions of suns left for Ms. Lane, as well.
If you care to know how you can help out, please get in touch with me.