I new a boy once. His name was Alexander. Ironically, he died of Alexander’s Disease. A name bursting with nobility. A name used seemingly for royalty. King Alexander, in one small world, our small world. A classroom world, where friendships became more important than math and comfort took priority over reading. A classroom where the teacher became the student in the core content area of death. An new curriculum was established, complete with daily lesson plans on pain management, tube feedings, aspirating and, of course, a reward system simply for living. There is no beginning or end to the the daily lessons to be learned from watching someone too young die too soon. They don’t come from history books, book reports or world maps. These lessons come from wrapping oneself around a frail and failing body and hoping that each breath isn’t the last. Lessons that come from looking into the eyes of a little boy who knows with certainty that death lingers and finding the courage to maintain his gaze. Learning that there are no satisfying answers to endless questioning from inquisitive honest classmates seeking protection from the fragility of life. Answering the most difficult questions fearlessly and with confidence? Ha! A skill never mastered and one in which this teacher flunked miserably. Alex outlived his life expectancy by six years and, as a rule, with a smile. A classroom motto was born. However, it was not based on traditional work ethic or classroom standard. It wasn’t even based on teaching tolerance or respecting differences. Posted above Alex’s classroom bed were these words: “For some, hope adds time to their life, for others, hope adds life to their time.” A mystery to be sure, but this mystery gave us purpose in the long wait for an everlasting sleep. There is no university, accredited program or teacher mentorship that can prepare a teacher to lead quality instruction to a diverse group of learners while providing hospice thought the school day. Lessons are often learned the hard way. For example, it’s not a good idea to expect students to stay engaged in reading when you’ve just administered oral medication to someone whose ability to swallow has been lost. It’s difficult to determine when providing an education ends and a push to stay home begins. Will attending school facilitate the strength for one more day? Witnessing a fighter die changes the hearts and lives of those involved. It unites people as family and teaches us that one life connects so many. Alex surprised his classmates and teachers with a pop quiz on the human spirit. Some of us passed, while other failed (and some even stayed for the final exam). Alex’s story is the greatest lesson. A required chapter book that provides solace, nourishment and inspiration to find the courage to live truthfully. It leaps the boundaries of a lesson and becomes a gift. I knew a boy once. He’s gone but his gifts remain.
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