I couldn’t do it. I wanted to, but just could not bring myself to the place emotionally. One of my former students died this week. He was 17 years old and he drank himself to death. I could not handle another visit to the funeral home under these circumstances. I poured my life into helping this boy learn to read when he was in fourth grade. He was a kind kid who struggled to learn. Right up my ally.
Many teachers have a “save the world” complex. It is a built in part of the gift of teaching. We want to reach every student and make a difference that will change the course of their lives. It is a noble wish. Of course, if we have taught long enough, we are also realists. We know that some will choose not take our challenge to be world changers. The beauty of teaching is that you never know which ones will and which ones won’t. We teach them all with abandon. We have our guesses as to how things will turn out, but death by drinking at 17 is not one of them.
The hope and mystery of how students’ lives will go beyond our doors that intrigues us to keep at the profession. Some kids rise up stand firm in their lives. It is a great feeling to know that in some small way we may have had some part in that. But when the unthinkable happens, like this week, we wonder what we could have done differently. It was not our choice, yet we feel for all of those that have poured into this young man. As a community we wonder what did it take to get us to this point? It is my hope that we can learn from this; all of us teachers, parents, children and community members. Maybe John’s death can wake us up from our slumber, so that we will reach out to other students as we vow to not allow another child to fade into obscurity. I am aware that all we can do is to offer the tools for success; we cannot force anyone to use them. The unthinkable leads us to think. How can we do things differently?
My heart and prayers go out to John’s family. To have your son ripped from you so early must be devastating. It is my prayer that you will be comforted and that this tragedy can somehow lead our community to action on behalf of our children. We weep with you as you grieve. We pray for you as you pick up the pieces of your lives. We cry tears of what could have been. As a community, we continue to pour ourselves out to avoid this heartbreak in the future.