Wednesday, September 1, 2010

They Say You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till It's Gone

Mood:  sad, but happy to a certain degree.
Lip-syncing:  Jake Coco and Caitlin Hart -- Don't Go


I still remember the day I first saw him.

Wandering through a giant high school that was completely foreign to me, my eighth grade self timidly sat beside my father when we were brought into this dark cave of a room. Black walls, black boxes, black curtains.
"Kind of cliche," I said to my dad. He shrugged. I knew he wasn't a fan of this subject. He wanted me to take music, like my older brother and sister, to be a good little band student. Music makes you smarter, a better student.
"Not this," he replied, waving his hand about the room. This small, stuffy space was definitely not made to hold this many people.

It was made to hold much more.

That tiny, confined room became like a second home to me through the next four years. A safe haven, a place to cry, to laugh, and to love. In fact, even walking in there now stirs a deep, unexplainable feeling in my chest.

Lawrence Stern was an intimidating man when I first laid eyes on him. With his long, grey/white hair, wide glasses, and mismatched shoes, I thought him a bit crazy. Especially when he started gesturing wildly during a small exercise. One detail that stands out was his arm drum roll, the one he did after he made some cheesy joke I didn't understand; that bump-bump-thud, meant to mimic a old-fashioned comedian's drum sound.

How 'Stern'.

For anyone who attended Streetsville Secondary, Stern became a sort of living symbol for Streetsville's incredible theatre program. I was drawn into drama from that very first fascinating  demonstration during grade eight orientation night. Severely disappointed when I realized my first drama class was not until second semester, I eagerly joined the mongrel group of ninth graders hoping to make it into Streetsville's annual fall Showcase performance. We worked closely with another teacher, but this was truly my first exposure to Mr. Stern. Most certainly not my last.

Stern had this intensity, this passion that was undeniable. Actually, I remember being baffled and a little frightened. I smile and laugh at the memory, but Stern's first impressions are always a little questionable. In fact, Stern was a pretty questionable guy. He had the strangest habits, and most bizarre thought patterns. It was impossible to have a conversation with him without having to step back and take a second look at your perspective, and even better, at another perspective on the issue. It's what I truly loved most, talking with him.

I had to be honest. Brutally, completely honest not only with him, but with myself. Stern had that quality about him. He often became my confidant of sorts as the years passed. It's no secret my parents and I have never gotten along well, and Stern often gave me the reality checks I needed to figure out whatever part of my life I was struggling with at the time.

It was a bittersweet day when I attended his retirement party. Although I'd never had him as a drama teacher -- Marsha Legault became my second mother, with all the things she taught me -- I was apprehensive about him leaving. It felt wrong somehow. What felt even more wrong was how I lost touch with him after he left. Weekly emails trickled down to once a months, once every few months, and then next to never. We use to exchange anecdotes, photos, music, and it just trailed off. It's really my fault. Stern was perfectly capable of maintaining friendships with his other students, and now I just feel a little guilty.

Visiting him in the hospice for cancer patients did nothing to ease it. Seeing him, so different from how I imagined, just broke my heart. But I know that's not what he wanted to hear. And the minute he opened his mouth to give me shit about my life choices, I knew he was still the same old Stern. Nothing would ever change that, and in that way I'm glad. To see him suffering through the pain was hard to do, so to know that agony is over for him is a relief.

It's always in retrospect that we see our mistakes. We wish we could go back and spend more time with the people that matter. Despite all the warnings, all the reminders, sometimes we just forget. And then we regret. I know Stern doesn't blame me for anything, but I do. And it's useless to play the blame game, but sometimes it's unavoidable. I wish I could go back in time. Impossible, yes, I know, but it doesn't change the fact that I want to.

But let's not waste anymore time on impractical thoughts, useless things and regrets. Instead, remember those we've lost. Remember them for their laughter, their strength, their passion, their intelligence, the inspiration they provided, the way they pushed conventional boundaries, their insanity and brilliance, the comfort they provided and the love they shared.

And their mismatched chucks.

Rest In Peace, Lawrence Stern.
Go ahead, rock that porcupine hat and give 'em hell up there. May you continue on your path to teach, love and live in the afterlife.


07 Dec. 2010 -- Edit:  There is a facebook group that was created, called "In Memory of Lawrence Stern"
That is the link. Feel free to head there and share your memories as well...


Anonymous said...

wow, i saw someone's status on facebook from streetsville that said "RIP Mr. Stern", so i googled "streetsville stern"and your blog came up confirming my worst fear. He taught me drama in Grade 10. RIP Mr. Stern

Anonymous said...

I heard about Stern last night and am so heartbroken. I had been trying to get back in touch with him, to thank him, for the past eight months... and then to hear this. I thought I'd had more time. I wish I'd known.

Do you have any details about what happened? How long was he sick?

Also... do you know anything about when his service will be?

Anonymous said...

Wow amazing, Stern was a big part of my life too. So sad to see him gone...

Anonymous said...

Me too - saw a friend's status on FB and Googled Lawrence Stern and found this blog. THank you for your poignant tribute to him. I never had him as a teacher, just knew him through drama club, and appreciated that he always so a lot more in me than I did in myself back then. Last saw him at the "all year" Streetsville reunion 2 years ago - he was the same guy I remembered from 1992 :)

JY said...

Thank you for your words.

Kris said...

He always saw more in people than they saw in themselves. I think that was one of the most insane and beautiful qualities about him. Thank you for your kind words everyone. I know he affected many lives, and it's a loss for all of us.

For those interested, email me at if you want more details regarding his memorial service.