This I Believe

Ellen - Oakland, California
Entered on May 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death, gratitude
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So many faces peer up at me from across the glossy pages. I search for an unknown face about to teach me so much. Bright brown eyes of this little boy meet mine, mine that tear up just at the image. Jason, just 12. Suddenly taken by an asthma attack while playing with his cousin. I don’t remember him in the halls. But there he is, and yet he’s not. My heart swells as if to burst, the emotion so strong. Loss does that to us, even when it is of someone we don’t know.

And, so our school mourns, takes a moment (if not more) to reflect upon this young life lost. The principal announces that we will be collecting pennies and dimes for a tree and plaque. A piece of life planted to honor the dead. In typical school fashion, into a plastic jar, children drop pennies, dimes, dollars, their lunch money, quarters intended for the ice cream man after school, a dollar or two saved to download music, a nickel found on the ground on the way to school. All of them so eager to be part of a process. How else can they make sense of a child’s death? This moment making their own mortality ever more real. There is no course on their schedule for “how to grieve”. Yet, this is a test they must take.

This is the moment in teaching when you realize why you chose this job. Certainly, it wasn’t for the chance to explain quadratic equations to 12 year olds or the opportunity to really make clear the difference between direct and indirect objects. Teachers teach because they want to make connections with their students. Teachers teach because they want to be there in those miraculous moments students get something for the first time. Teachers teach because they once had a moment in school when a teacher noticed them.

The clock ticks, the quiz continues. There are no blackline masters for this lesson. We must just live it, flow in its unstructured journey, let go, glide down its river of emotions; but, at the same time, hold on to what is real, let ourselves be seen, let others know we see them.

It is the thought of Jason’s own mother that stings the most. She wants to be at the tree planting, she wants to come to school and return his books, she wants to stay connected to the life her son lived. But there will need to be that moment when she lets go, when she gazes down at that glossy picture of the sweet brown-eyed boy and lets go.

This teacher, this mother cannot imagine that moment which seems so elusive, like a spill of water. Emotions pour without handles, not meant to be caught, only meant to be released.

Perhaps, this is the Lesson of Jason: take time to reflect on what is important in your life; know that you can hang on to what was, or let go, opening your hand and heart, grabbing on to what is new, what is to come. This is the lesson we must teach: what is real lies in your heart, lies in the hearts you touch.

This teacher is humbled at the skilled lesson taught by a sweet 12 year old boy – one she never even got the chance to say hello to.