Mr. Zachreson, wherever you are, I hope you’ve been able to make your Pilgrimage to Mecca.
I’d have to say that the most influential educator in my entire life would have to be, hands down, Nick Zachrreson. He was my 7th grade CORE teacher when I was going to Branciforte Middle School. As I look back on it now, he was a very cynical man, who scared the shit out of me the first time I met him.
At the time, I felt that he expected too much out of his student, but as I grow older, I come to understand that he simply expected what should be expected from his students.
He was an American who had converted to Islam. He never really spoke of it, but I remember the prayer rug in his room, and it was absolutely beautiful. He never prayed at school, but it was there as a reminder for him.
As a man of many moods, he was an unpopular teacher, but he absolutely fascinated me. He was a very educated man who commanded respect.
He is the man who unlocked the door to my passion for history, language, and most importantly; how to look at things objectively. This is something that my Nana and Grandpa had tried to drill into me for as long as I can remember. To some extent they had succeeded, but it took a single comment from Mr. Zachreson to drill the idea home, “Allah, is nothing more than the word for God in Arabic.”
To some, that may not make much sense, so let me tell you a bit about my upbringing. I do need to define something, though, before we get going. For ease of conversation, religion will refer to any set of standardized or organized systems of spiritual belief. That being said I was raised by my Great Grandmother who, as a child, was raised with no real religion, but when they did attend church, it was usually Baptist. However, she attended a Catholic school and partook in Mass during the week, and then on Sundays after her Baptist sermon, her and some friends would run ‘across the tracks’ to the Holy Roller church. As she grew up, she drifted away from her childhood upbringings, but ended up converting to Judaism to marry one of her husbands, and then ended up marrying a Mormon.
Next in line would be my Nana who didn’t follow any sort of organized religion, that I’m aware of, but her father was Mormon, and because she was born into a Mormon family based upon the belief system she is a Mormon by default – she just isn’t a ‘good’ Mormon. At some point she was involved in the Lutheran belief system.
My mother considers herself a Non-Denominational Christian (think NIV vs. King James).
My Grandpa Robert now considers himself an Atheist. Before the Vietnam war, I believe he said he was raised Catholic.
My Grandpa Butz is a practicing Mormon.
Then lastly, my Grandpa Bill was religious, though I’ve never gotten anything out of him regarding what type of religion, he did attend seminary school, and stopped due to personal reasons.
Now, all that said, if I had to give a particular belief system that I was raised with it would be Non-Denominaitonal Christian. I was first introduced when I was about 7 years old. Up until meeting Mr. Zachreson, I never questioned what I was told, and dogmatically believed that the only way to worship God was the way I was taught. When Mr. Zachreson uttered that loaded sentence, he got me to thinking. It was more than anyone in my family had managed to do. What that fated sentence said to me, is that Muslims worship God, they just do it in a different manner.
He was my first encounter with a belief system completely different than my own. Muslims worship God in a way that was completely foreign to me at the time, and in my head ‘wrong’. Mr. Zachreson’s simple statement opened up a whole new world for me.
It taught me to think.