This blog entry is a personal reflection on an event that happened recently while traveling and how the world has a way of leading you to where you need to be if you let it.
On this particular trip, I sat next to a father and his young son going on a trip for Spring Break.
This flight was out of the main airport in our state, so there was a good chance this family was from somewhere I knew, and as the boy looked to be elementary-aged, and I used to be a teacher, I struck up a conversation asking about school. They mentioned the name of the school he went to – what do you know?! It was the elementary school connected to the middle school I used to teach in. What a small world.
“Ohh, I bet you knew this little one’s older brother then. He went there when we was in 8th grade (that was the grade I taught). His name is . . .”
And yup, the world got even smaller. I taught their son. He was actually one of the kids that had stuck in my memory over my 14 years of teaching. I remembered how he struggled with school, and how he got in fights and his anger with life – this is what his dad was currently focusing on and unnecessarily apologizing for, as parents tend to do. However, I also remembered his amazing laughter, his smile, his hyper curious brain, and the trust he placed in me when he broke down and had hard days. This is what I related to his dad – the fond memories I had of him. This is what I wanted his dad to focus on and his younger brother to hear. We proceeded to talk about where he was now and what he was doing. Something was niggling in the back of my mind though. Another thought that I couldn’t quite grasp. Then his dad asked what I was doing now if I wasn’t teaching.
I told him about my move to the non-profit 3Hopeful Hearts and how we helped companion people in their grief journey after the loss of a child at any age for any reason. His face sort of smoothed over, and then it clicked for me. The thing I had forgotten – one of the reasons the student I had taught had so many emotional outbursts and anger stored up at times. He’d had an older brother. The dad said that he had heard of us and that after they lost their oldest son, they had been referred to 3Hopeful Hearts. We commiserated on the sad need for the organization and chit chatted about school a bit, then launched into Spring Break details that brought smiles to all our faces.
I think of that student often. I think back about his struggles and I remember wishing I could do more to help, that I had more time, or more resources to be there for my student who obviously was reaching out for guidance and solace in the classroom setting.
I also think of when I found out that a former student took his own life a few years after leaving our middle school. I think of how I sat in the Superintendent’s office and cried. Somehow, I felt, we had failed that child – allowing him to leave our halls without the knowledge that we were here for him if he needed us. And the next year, a desk that used to hold a student of mine became empty during the year, and I stared out at a sea of sad faces in my classroom, not knowing how to breathe, trying not to look at that desk, but having it pull me in every second anyway. What do I do? How do I help? How do we proceed? The next year, another loss in our school and all the memories came flooding back, and I remember realizing that this is actually happening all the time all around the world, and that thought made me shiver and cry with feelings of rage and helplessness. I felt like I could do nothing and it made me feel . . . lost.
So, to come full circle, the universe must have been listening to me, even better than I ever listen to myself.
Somehow, through a series of events that just seemed so random, I found 3Hopeful Hearts and they just so happened to have a position open. Here is a spot where I could find resources, where I could be of aid in those most terrible and vulnerable moments, where I could look daily at the work we did and know it was necessary and that it was making a difference.
So maybe I can find that student again. Maybe I can reach out and let him know that I am better prepared now, that I know more, and that I have a stronger shoulder to offer when he needs it. Maybe I can walk with him when he grieves and I can listen to his stories and really hear them. I can witness his journey in grief and I can cry with him, letting our tears wash our souls for a moment. In this small world, I have to believe that this is possible.