This is another one that I found in the drafts! Frank died July 2009. Should have posted this earlier but you know how that goes….
Frank McCourt, the author, has died. One of my old friends, Brian was a student of his in New York City, so I have been reading a lot about what his former students had to say about him. I would have been reading about him anyway.
Even before his death I enjoyed his writing and his story. Because I love the rags to riches story. Or the “I Survived This” story. And I liked that he seemed humble in that unique Irish way while we all knew he was educated, well read and bright as a penny.
But I was also interested because of his background. I understood his phrases, references to religion and sayings with the utmost clarity. My grandparents also met in New York City, married and then returned to their homeland of Ireland with their U.S. born children. They would soon have three more children born on the auld sod. And while they might not have experienced the dreadful poverty of the McCourts there were still some parallels to their lives.
Well, you can read about all of that in his books. The most striking thing here is not just his horrific recollection of his childhood but the amazing recollection of his students of their time spent with him. Recalling funny stories and lessons learned. Decades later.
We sometimes underestimate the importance of a wonderful teacher. Yet we hear the stories of the love, guidance, and care bestowed on so many from these dedicated individuals. It sounds like Frank’s students never had a better teacher. Some of the lessons they learned from this teacher of thirty years were just plain old simple ones.
Write what you know.
When one person wrote an essay it was thrown back to him with Mr. McCourt saying something to the effect, “Who is writing this? Use the words you use.”
I get lost when I have to read anything that is too flowery or if it has too many uncommon words. I don’t want to stop to look up the meaning of an archaic word. Give it to me straight. Don’t interrupt my rhythm or I will no longer read what you have written.
That’s what Frank McCourt did. Whether you think that there was exaggeration in his childhood memoir or not. I believed every minute of it. Because of his writing. Simple, direct, honest, and stark reality. People have crummy childhoods. That’s it. And sometimes they can rise above it. Sometimes they can’t. McCourt wrote about what he knew. And who would know his own life better than him?
When reading his books you don’t have to guess what he was thinking. He tells you.
Rory’s teachers ask the students to analyze a story and figure out what message the writer was trying to convey or what he/she might have been thinking at the time. She says to me, “What if they weren’t sending any message at all? What if they were just writing and sharing? And that’s all there is?” Hmmm.
She is in the process of writing her personal college essay. I told her exactly what I thought Frank McCourt would have told her, ”Who is writing this? Use the words you would use.” That is absolutely the best advice I could give her.
Be yourself. Keep it simple. Uncomplicate it.
I was not a student of Mr. McCourt but I am learning from him. As we all can.
May God rest his soul and bless all the teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching and impacting young lives. ‘Tis a better world because of them.