In teaching, there is this thing called “Starting with the end in mind.” It is used to guide instruction, and to develop Common [sometimes rotten] Core formative assessment. This idea is not exclusive to teaching though. I use the device in thinking toward writing, toward making sense of bumfuzzle at the end of some very long days. This was no exception, other than the looking back was done on a road bike, under a hard-headed Bell bike helmet, and with a wavering faith that the high speed objects coming at me, from behind and from before, would stay between their own lines.
So, from the end, I looked back to the beginning of the day…..to an interruption that was broadcast on the P.A. system.
“All teachers and staff, Please come to the workroom for a brief meeting,” said a normally cheerful voice that signaled different.
I was there at the counter already, contributing to two sprawling weddings, placing money in manilla envelopes, silently wishing these young lovers best wishes. In recognizing hushed tones, head shaking disbelief, and strange looks on faces, I asked,
“Did something happen?”
It had. One teacher explained in a sad whisper voice…
”D’s husband committed suicide last night.”
I nearly stopped breathing. This is not the first time I have felt this way. The last time I ran to call 911. This time, I ran to the phone in the teacher’s lounge and tried to call my EMT husband. At first…no dial tone. Then no answer. Yes, there would be no answers.
We were smitten by sad news. Hewn down, but not allowed to fall. I stood there with down cast eyes, with wounded mind and bleeding soul, crying inside for a friend who would not be to work. No, she would not be pulling kids for reading intervention, or for Dibles testing. She would not be on the curb with neon orange cones for car duty. I would not meet that American Idol smile on the sidewalk, or mix with kid talk at homework club. She would not be helping me with Opera, or reminding me of a dance competition for Angel.
Something unspeakable had happened. An Angel had fallen. My friend’s man had ended his life. This had been decided from the barrel of a gun…and none of us could or would ever really understand.
In spite of trying to empathize toward my friend, all of this spiraled inward. I fell silent. The scene became one of my own mother moaning, laying on the blue basement carpet with a 12 guage and a belly full of bird shot….all over again. A lump grew in my throat I could not easily swallow. Water and breath, and Jesus, most assuredly the best order. I would have to somehow make it through this emotional day, to the loading of yellow school buses and beyond. I would have to sport smiles and happy high fives and hugs. I knew I could do it. It just didn’t seem like it, in this moment. Still, the pepper grinding school year had prepared me for this additional sadness.
When the group had formed, our boss delivered the regretful news. To some, this was the first they had heard of this. To others, it was a confirmation dispelling rumors. The message required bravery. The response would ask something more Godly from all of us.
Wise words, love, and concern flowed from our leader. A message of hope and of love was given, for D. and for her family, but also for all of us. A reminder to endure….to finish well…..for school children, and for one another was central. In short, the directive that wafted through the work room, which felt more like the sick room, was understandably [to pray], and to love one another. An acknowledgemnet of the fragility of life, and of the innumerable hidden burdens that many carry was given. It was a brief, timely commentary. It was a most needed and powerful message. A plea to hang on and to trek on together in love.
I imagined the usual [not Friday] secretary picking up a pink phone and audibly making calls for angelic help. I suspected this was the same plea transmitting from every heart in the working sick room. Then my brain retrieved a song that conveyed what was being asked of teachers on this bi-polar Friday….this minimum day that in one sentence minimized us to sad and humble. On this release to summer day upon which there would be little release of the grief. The music swelled like a headache, like puffy crying eyes, and sore tissue-blown noses to once popular in the lyrics…..”Smile when you feel like crying. Smile even though you’re dying. Smile…”
I have done this anti-equated thing before. Smiled in the face of a storm. Somehow over the course of the school year I have retained my own broken smile, and in time healed it to high beam again. But now, in this moment of lights off, a call for “light to shine” was given.
And so we compartmentalized this tragedy, and other anguishes to a point. For a day or so, leading into Memorial Day Weekend, I mostly felt what it feels like to be grown up and aged to elderly, in the emotional complexity of life and loss. This is exhausting behavior… the carrying of heavy things, and heavy thinking. More tiring than play… is being serious. Focusing on living and teaching and producing, even though I felt a part of me was die-ing.
I remember this sick feeling. Last time I was this, I felt shaky kneed, and rubbery legged, as if carrying the sweaty burden of an overloaded back pack. Still twitchy, I trudged on….when this happened six or so months ago the morning of parent teacher conferences. It too, was a day of reflection, of reckoning, of accountability, and certain demolition….of tears and pain…of ashes. In time though, the phoenix rose again, again, again. Reality confirmed, this was not that day, nor would it be the end. Hope would rise.
This was a sad day for other reasons too. Today, in addition to news of the loss of Michael, we also lost a teacher friend in the first grade as she took a tearful, grateful step of faith toward retirement. The teacher whose own personal health, or loss of it, granted my own new life event in a break into teaching.
I remember Mr. Brook’s calling me and asking if I would take over for this teacher. I would become the leg she would stand on [so to speak] during a very serious ordeal with diabetes. It was a Sunday… I think December 10th, 2006 that the phone rang. And so, in sharing her classroom and dear children during a time of serious health concerns, I finally received the student teaching I had only received in name sake before. Things fell into place. Then in the summer, an interview, an offer, a contract. A new life.
Truth is…the exit of this dear, skilled, beloved teacher, and the separation it creates, offer both her, and another teacher a new beginning. In losing this teacher connection, we gain another teacher friend in first grade, as well as another in third grade. Again and again we will roll with change. We will recycle….yes. Recycle Friday has new meaning.
I too… will lose twenty-two amazing children. I will also gain twenty-two more the minute I read the class list in July. Hellos are easy. Goodbyes are hard.
At the end of the day, and this day was no exception, I think. Whir, whir, whir. Synapsis firing through emotional exhaustion, and a page for teachers to go to the music room. This will be a rehearsal of a song for the retirement party. Thought takes presidence to action.
I think….as long as I can still boot up and do the MATHS in being, in moving, in thinking, in feeling, in loving, in teaching… I think I am still performing to Standards…maybe. Maybe not. From cleaning out Room #23… the teaching life still sounds and feels pretty great in spite of scattered showers. Even if the audio enhancement is junk and sounds like an electrical storm or artifact, the Expo marker scrawled farewells from children boost me and boom a thunderously delightful,
“Thank you, Mrs. R., and, “We love you and will miss you!” and “HAGS, and “Thanks for the Opera.” Drawings and love notes. 🙂
These will sustain me through the week or two of transition into other life called Summer. The green dry erase markers and all the markers of the rainbow speak LIFE! The future promises much good, and God keeps His promises.