In October of 1962, when the world seemed as if it were coming to an end, I turned to a man named Jack Dalton to help me make sense of it all. Unlike some of the priests who also were my teachers at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, Dalton–Mr. Dalton–wasn’t warning me to go to confession and make sure I was prepared to die. He was my history teacher and he talked to me about history.
“This is more like World War 1,” he said. “Both sides sending ultimatums to each other. Warning that war could break out. It’s kind of exciting.”
He went on at length about the idea of casus belli and how wars began. Many of us thought we would be become part of a planet-sized pile of ash. Dalton wouldn’t deny the possibility but, even if this were among our last moments, it would be a teachable moment.
Oddly, I felt comforted by what he knew and how he wanted to share it. We–he and I–were part of history. He was my guide and I was his student. Some things were more important than fearing World War 3.
He was, of course, a devout Roman Catholic but he was also always a great teacher. He wasn’t going to miss this moment to put the world into context for a student, no matter how frightening the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was.
Jack Dalton died Saturday. I will miss him.
All of his should note and mourn the passing of a good teacher.