In sections five through ten of the essay—to be posted sometime over the next week, when Marco is finished with a technical upgrade of the site—I address a number of the issues that you raise, so much of this discussion might be better left for then. You write, “I assume when you first arrived to her you weren’t a smooth and polished aesthete with perfect manners and etiquette, but were unkempt and unruly and unpredictable in your boundless curiosity about what actually makes things and people tick down in their hidden mechanisms and operations.” I was definitely very badly behaved as a teenager, in equal parts arrogant and insecure, brimming with anger towards the injustices of society, contemptuous of the complacent, pointlessly insulting, eager to mix things up at the drop of a hat. In the same semester, my grades might range from A to D. I am sure that I was quite a trial for the majority of my teachers, in those cases where I chose to say anything at all.
When I did want to participate, I was sometimes kicked in the head. I took one literature course with a teacher who fascinated me. He had written several novels and had a Hemingwayesque persona. I wanted to know more, and I relentlessly peppered him with questions. Like Hemingway, alcohol seemed to be a major factor in his life, and, in retrospect, I can see that he had burnt out years before I met him. He wanted to do nothing more than to show slides and film strips and then hand out multiple-choice quizzes. With all of the best intentions, I refused to let him get away with this. Then, one day, he took me by the arm and pulled me out into the hallway. “Read the books on the list,” he said, “and turn in a few essays. I will give you a B. Whatever you do, though, don’t come back into this class again.” This type of attitude was more typical of teachers in my earlier school experience. Doherty High, to which I had just transferred after getting kicked out of St. Peter’s, was actually an excellent school. There were any number of good teachers there. I just was not prepared to meet most of them half-way.
You write, “What really distinguished (Sue Castigliano) from other teachers you had? Also, this is another question which comes to mind I really want to ask you: Do you think there are teachers more suitable to an individual and his or her development than others?” These two things are really aspects of one question. Sue was exactly the right teacher for me at this particular time. She may very well have been for other students also. I couldn’t say. I was far too self-centered during this period to ever stop to notice. So, what qualities defined her? First, she listened, to what was said and to what was not said. Second, she saw, intuitively and in depth, in a way that felt both reassuring and invasive, in a way that mysteriously showed me to myself. No one else had ever done this; no one had ever tried. And third, she was far less interested in teaching a subject than in communicating on some level of direct presence. For this reason, I think of her as my first real spiritual teacher. You write, “The Goddess as Active Listener, your former teacher Sue Castigliano. How do you imagine she would have dealt with a difficult subject like myself if she was in your shoes and on the receiving end of my words? Would she have sent me to the corner with a dunce cap on my head?” The short answer is “Yes.” If I made too many demands, if I treated a classmate badly, for obscure reasons known only to herself or for no reason at all, she would sometimes act as if I wasn’t even there. Then, at some unpredictable moment, she would give me her full attention.
You ask, “In what way did you give back to Sue Castigliano and help her in her own development for becoming an even better teacher for those who came after you?” I wish that I could answer that. Up until I met her, I had not had many teachers who were in any way on my wavelength. I would like to think that my enthusiasm provided some degree of repayment. In addition, she was going through struggles of her own at the time. Even the worst of her problems seemed magical to me. I had just discovered that I had the ability to listen, and we would talk at considerable length. I don’t think, though, that I ever did specifically say “Thank you,” however much she might have inferred it from my actions. By the end of my senior year, exactly at the point when I was starting to grow up, Sue moved back to Ohio with her husband and three children. I was left to process any lessons learned in silence.