I always liked Bob Healey and followed his political career from afar. Though I left Rhode Island shortly after high school, I always remembered this long-haired substitute teacher who occasionally filled in for my straightlaced and no-nonsense senior year high school English teacher, Mrs. Mary D. Parks.
Bob, or Mr. Healey, as I knew him, came sauntering into my senior English class one day with his distinctive gait and placed his worn leather attaché case on the equally worn oak desk in front of the class.
Before he launched into the day’s lesson, he paused and announced to the class he was going to teach us how to remember to spell a few uniquely spelled words. I sat there with great anticipation.
Mr. Healey walked up to the chalkboard and begin scribbling a word with the white chalk. He spelled out in big sweeping letters the word “W E I R D.”
I was wondering where he was going with this but I liked his whole theatrical demeanor and he had my attention. I suspect he held the attention of others in the class as well.
So, he begins his English lesson about words spelled with “ei” or “ie.” You remember the drill, “I before E except after C with some exceptions.” At any rate, he turned to the class with his long black hair all tossed about and proclaimed to us he had a sure-fire way to remember how to spell the word, “Weird.” He still had my attention; I was waiting with bated breath.
With characteristic flair, he circled the letters, “W” and “E” in the word “weird” on the chalkboard. I think he circled the letters twice for emphasis. He then proclaimed, “You can always remember how to spell this word by remembering WE are all weird. All of us.” Again, emphasizing the “we” in the word “weird”with two taps of the chalk under the letters “W”and “E.”
Now this struck me deeply. You see, I was a particularly insecure high school student at the time and felt quite unique in my own personal weirdness. I was often intimidated by the seemingly normative, and ever so cool, deportment of my classmates. THEY didn’t seem weird at all. And I thought I was pretty weird.
This proclamation by Mr. Healey changed my view of my high school universe and I suddenly felt that even though Mike, Tim and I (my high school buddies) would often spend Friday afternoons reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and writing zany poems, we were actually part of a larger world filled with weird people. In this moment, I suddenly felt like I belonged to a larger school community because, truth be told, according to Mr. Healey, we all were weird. This fact was most comforting to me.
I found out later, Mr. Healey was a perennial candidate for public office and once ran a campaign with the slogan, “A Strange Man for a Strange Job.” He indeed knew the power of being weird. He seemed to even revel in it.
Mr. Healey regularly ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor in Rhode Island. He actually ran on a platform of abolishing the office of Lieutenant Governor. This cracked me up! “Good for you, Bob Healey,” I thought to myself when I heard of his plans. He garnered 39% of the vote and over 126,000 Rhode Islanders voted for him in his 2010 race!
Mr. Healey may not have been wildly successful in politics but he was right about two points he raised as a teacher. First, I’ve always remembered how to spell the word “weird”even though the word “receive” sometimes still stumps me. And second, like Mr. Healey, my life experiences have proven to me we are all a little weird. Ain’t it grand!?
Do you remember a teacher from your youth who taught you a life lesson that remained with you well into adulthood? Please share it below.