School keeps me busy. Each day, I work with 150 students. Since I returned to the classroom, I’ve developed relationships with almost all of 450 students. We share 18 weeks together and can’t help but bond a bit.
As our lives in our home are so clearly ordered by God, I’m sure that some of these kids were the reasons I was to return. Several students have parents or grandparents suffering with cancer. These teenagers lend an empathy to any conversation.
Some have had little finesse in working with adults, as all students have their temperaments and some struggle to get along with teachers. Some of those kids can be charmed by the right person and, this time, I have been that person.
I stopped asking God to show me the special ‘who’s’ in my room. I rest in the confidence that He is using me. I know that my students enrich my life.
One such student studied American Literature with me last semester. She was bright and funny. She almost always read her assignments. She was a writer. We had several back and forth e-mails as she was searching for ‘just the right word’ for something. She liked to pick my brain for tips about staying her focus for her projects.
Like many of my juniors, she was also a student athlete. As the semester ended, an illness took her to the doctor who diagnosed ovarian cancer. She underwent operations, chemo, other therapies, all with the hope that she would beat this disease.
Her many friends and team mates rallied as only kids can: they organized fund raisers, marches, prayer meetings. They got T-shirts printed. Kids all over the school wore these shirts. Cheerleaders passed cans at the basketball games to raise money for cancer research.
Her Facebook page would include updates from her, plus well-wishes from so many friends.
Alas, she lost her battle last week, just shy of 3 months after her diagnosis. Her passing rippled through our school and into our classrooms. For so many of my juniors, this is their first close experience with death.
It just feels so wrong when a child dies. The universe seems out of whack. These days, schools bring crisis counselors into the building when a potentially traumatic event occurs. But there’s also the time when it seems that life goes on as if nothing has happened. I faced her friends all week, the wound large, raw, and right on the surface.
How cruel it seems to go on with normal activities when this huge hole looms. But, ultimately, life goes on and so must we all.
It was no coincidence that we were at our study of Emily Dickinson. Miss Emily wrote a lot about death. And, not to trivialize the girl’s passing as a segue into a lesson, what I explained was that poets often give tangible voice to the vague fears and other feelings we all experience at times like this.
THIS world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
It beckons and it baffles;
Philosophies don't know,
And though a riddle, at the last,
Sagacity must go.
To guess it puzzles scholars;
To gain it, men have shown
Contempt of generations,
And crucifixion known.
And, yes, we could talk about what the poet believed. And with my students, we can walk this path together.
Juxtapose that event with another.
A strange vib exists as we left the building today. Our high school basketball team is headed to Indianapolis and the state tournament tomorrow night.
This is Indiana. Basketball, from toddler league on up, is a big big deal. The Kokomo Wildkats have traveled to the finals several times over the years. We took the crown 50 years ago. Two of our players are the sons of former champion players. There’s a community buzz as the crowd hits the road to the Conseco Field House.
We had a school-wide pep session during the last period today. Music, dancing, bands, drum lines, cheerleaders, the team, and a ruckus student body vibrated the walls of our gym.
And to support the team, or to show school spirit, or to entertain the troops, or for some secret reason, our principal organized a contest where selected teachers dove into whipped cream pies, located bubble gum, retrieved the gum, chewed it up and blew a bubble. Trickier than it sounds.
When my principal, a bit of an imp, had said he needed volunteers for various duties, I had fired off a quick e-mail, telling him I’d help out. HE decided I could help with the pie/gum thing.
So, for the first time in my 60 years, I competed with 10 of my colleagues to the cheers of the student body. I didn’t ‘win’ but I didn’t come in last. (I DID get side bombed when my eyes were closed.I KNOW who did it.)
As I wiped off my face and hair and walked to my classroom, I mused on how much I love these kids. They make me laugh at myself and at life.
And how much I will miss our sweet sister who is home with her Lord.
Such ebbs are the stuff of living.