Inspiring memoir from a young teacher who refused to give up after a brain cancer diagnosis.
The idea of the priority list came to Menasche in his early days teaching honors and AP English at a Miami magnet school, when his students were having trouble relating to Shakespeare's Othello. In an effort to help them, he presented a list of words that applied to everyone's life—“honor, love, wealth, power, career, respect”—and asked them to order the words according to the importance they might have had for Othello. The list, which he modified over the years to include more abstract ideas, became one of his standard teaching tools, and it helped students connect with the literary characters and reflect on their own priorities. “Their lists revealed more about their lives and what mattered to them than anything they ever said aloud,” he writes. Only in 2006, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer at 34, did Menasche write his own list. He was dismayed to find that the top items on the list were friendship and education rather than love or his marriage. After two emergency operations and continuous chemotherapy, he managed to lead a relatively normal life and continue teaching for six more years. He describes his return to the classroom after the first operation as one of the happiest days of his life, and he explains that since he was childless, his students were like family to him. When his health deteriorated and he was finally forced to give up teaching in 2012, he was deeply depressed. Then he made the audacious decision to travel the country and see how his former students were doing, and he discovered that the bonds he had formed with them remained strong. Student comments at the conclusion of each chapter celebrate the author’s continuing influence on their lives.
A beautiful meditation.