Words, Words, Words

December 22, 2015

I first encountered Rich Moran in early May 2010. I sat behind him in the freshman section of the bleachers of SLUH’s old gym for the annual senior award ceremony. I’d seen him and his distinctive white hair—balding yet unkempt, long on the sides and combed over the top—pacing the halls, generally with his head down and seldom smiling. But none of these passings qualified as encounters the way watching him give my classmate a demerit for a trivial thing did. The details escape me, although my memory hints that the student was laughing rather than applauding. To me, a freshman terrified of demerits and the JUG (“Justice Under God,” Jesuit for “detention”) that came from too many, this encounter primed me to react hesitantly when I saw “Moran, Rich” next to English II on my sophomore schedule.

I made this judgment before I ever knew Rich and his story. Which, as I learned in his class that year and senior year, is a crucial error in understanding anybody. For stories carry with them the power to reveal the parts of a person that they might never say explicitly.

Rich’s class redirected me to reading and writing again. In grade school, I spent my free time at home reading a new book every day or writing various stories, filled with unnecessary words but packed with detail. In middle school, though, I lost interest (mainly because, like most middle schoolers, I was a shit who thought I was too cool for everything my friends didn’t love as well). But in Rich’s class I learned to show and not to tell, to distinguish between important scenes and broad summaries. I read Macbeth and Things Fall Apart and Plainsong and A Call To Arms and The Lords of Discipline and fell back in love with an author’s ability to create an entire world with ink and imagination. Rich described Shakespeare’s ability to accurately depict the Macduff family dynamic in a mere five lines as something as wondrous as an artist’s ability to create a profile in a breeze of five paint strokes. Suddenly I had the strongest desire to become so skilled in my own writing, a desire that lives on and an accomplishment I am yet hundreds of miles from.

But the stories extend beyond the materials on the syllabus (a syllabus that made reference to Matt Holliday’s inability to field left field properly and shitty sequels to Snakes on a Plane nixed before Samuel L. Jackson could barter for another purple lightsaber). They shine most clearly in the times I interrupted the lesson to express my discontent with the Cardinals’ failure to win the division, the day Rich pulled me aside before class to tell me not to worry about the C he’d just given me on an essay about “The Last Duchess” because he could tell I was dealing with something bigger than school, the nights he visited the Prep News office and we talked for 30 minutes in the middle of the J Wing.

In Rich’s Reading and Writing Fiction class, I spilled the deepest parts of my life onto the assignments for Rich to read. In so doing he learned my story. So when he first spoke so passionately about his obsession with stories and the power they carry, I attached myself to his sentiment. Stories had always been important to me, from the mornings when I was eight years old and awoke at 5 am to read alone for two hours. But Rich’s testimony shed a brand new light on the importance of stories to life itself. We all come with a multitude of stories that have molded us. These are the stories that we share with friends we’ve just met in order to sculpt an image of ourselves for them. They’re the crux of existing friendships that share the same stories with different points of view that come together to create a new dimension. Without stories, our lives become repetitive. No substance remains; rust pervades.

***

Tonight I saw Wicked for the first time. I’ve heard the soundtrack dozens of times, and “Defying Gravity” has long been a favorite song of mine. Throughout the production, I obsessed over the power of stories and the words that makes stories possible. I couldn’t stop thinking about the magic of words and how desperately I needed to write. Write tonight and in the future (which will hopefully work out as I pray it will). When the cast performed “Defying Gravity,” I was overcome with amazement for these words that I speak of now, for the story that dives into the essential question of whether anyone is truly born wicked or if they have wickedness thrust upon them. My obsession with words reached full desperation to one day create something so powerful and moving as Wicked was tonight.

It is extremely difficult to accurately describe this feeling I felt tonight, but descriptions are the very reason that such a diverse vocabulary pervades the English language. Thus, I feel an obligation to describe this feeling as accurately as possible, and if I fail, then I have a great way to improve my writing. Here it goes.

If you’ve ever had a feeling of passion, excitement, potential, and a bit of terror, then you might know where I’m headed. It’s a combination that can come only from a certainty that you have discovered what you love and pine to excel at such an endeavor. A baseball player likely feels hit when he hits .400 for a month and reaches base more than half of the time. A teacher might stumble upon this drive when she breaks through to a struggling student and watches him work independently and successfully to present in front of the class for the first time. As a writer I feel it when, like tonight, words are organized in such a way that all I want is to create something so beautiful and moving. Something that stirs a passion to bring to life the stories that Rich so deeply loves. The simplest stories of love and friendship and betrayal and pain and even boredom that we all know so well. These are the stories that I crave to construct from nothing. They are the reason I refuse to go to bed until more words are adequate.

Words are our most inexhaustible form of magic, Dumbledore told Harry. For this reason I cherish words, especially those of the written variety, the ones that paper binds to eternity. Stories, the binding elements of our lives, would be impossible without words. Like Dumbledore said, they’re magical.

***

Today, Rich and I email nearly every day. When I visit SLUH, I visit his desk without regard for a clock. Three years after graduating, I cannot stop obsessing over words and stories. The implications of their power can only be marveled at, not quite understood. Rich taught me the true power of stories and words, and there is no way to possibly repay him in full for that gift. All I can do is continue to craft my own words on this screen and on paper, creating my own story, starring Rich Moran.

***

Defying Gravity – Wicked

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn.” – Glinda – Wicked

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