Lucy paints Ray

I didn’t write about Ray McGraw when he died six weeks ago. I’m fixing that now. Thanks to Lucy Shemo.
Lucy did write about Ray. In a rambling essay the likes of which she likes to churn out ever now and again and sometimes sends to me. Ray was part of her latest. Lucy had no idea Ray and I were friends. Had no idea the pain of his death still lingers. She was just assessing where she is in life now that she’s graduated from the community college and facing her upcoming 20th birthday along with the rest of her life.
Lucy, a general studies major, appeared in my Mass Communications class last fall at Luzerne County Community College. She enrolled in my advertising class last spring, which was fortunate for me because Lucy had a way of teaching me as much as I taught her. Apparently she was not done teaching me.
Lucy is into history and received the college’s Most Outstanding History Student award. She’d easily become a history professor. But law school also calls. Plus, she can draw and paint. She draws and paints in the way you cannot believe humans can draw and paint.
I did not know Lucy had encountered Ray McGraw at the college until her essay showed up in my email. I was pleased to hear she did. Lucy would have gotten a lot from the Ray McGraw experience. Everyone would have, actually.
She went to his viewing, too. So like Lucy.
Lucy paints with words as well as with acrylics.
Here’s how she painted Ray:
Fall Semester 2016 was a blast. I had too much fun at school, losing sight on my studies. It’s a little unfair to say that, considering I have never been a rigorous studier. I took a life death and dying course with my brother and a few friends. We actually would not have had the class if my brother Luke did not join. Our professor was out of his mind. For a life death and dying course, it could only be that way.
That “out of his mind” professor was Ray McGraw.
I watched old films in that class. It definitely aligned me with the roll of a teenage college kid that has suddenly found a way to add to her arsenal of coolness, Lucy also wrote.
And then:
My life death and dying teacher… died. I reconnected with a few friends from my class to go to his viewing, and I’m happy I did. Not because I oddly enjoy viewings, I have only ever been to about four, but this one was great. I loved it. We walked in and immediately saw a television broadcasting a slideshow of our former teacher’s life.
There he was wearing a shirt saying “follow your bliss,” echoing a lecture we heard once.
Then another photo where he was clad in one of those shirts with the milky way on it, astutely pointing to an arbitrary point reading “you are here.”
He was cremated. His urn stood next to a bottle of Heineken and a framed letter demonstrating his honorary ex-convict status. I spoke to his wife and daughter. Even his grandson, who disregarded the words “I’m sorry” and exchanged them for “I’m sorry for all of us.”

I could write a lot about Ray, about how the first time I met him at the college he introduced himself with “Hi, I’m the philosophy department,” or how I’ve always encouraged my students to take his classes as their Humanities elective, but nothing I could write would capture him the way Lucy did.
I always describe Lucy’s writing as honest. It’s a stream of consciousness style with no holds barred. In her essay, she refers to Ray as old. “Literally, an old man,” she writes. That’s not a criticism on her part, just an observation.
Ray was 68. I will turn 68 in November.
I told you Lucy teaches me things.
(Note: I’ve included a photo of two of Lucy’s drawings. They were hanging in a corner at an exhibit at Main Street Gallery in Kingston. I took the photo with one reflected in the other. One is a self portrait, in profile, of Lucy herself. The other, a drawing of her mom as a baby.)

Ed Ackerman