Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Forever Young

On September 12, 2001, I started class by telling my students that thousands of people woke up the day before with no indication that their lives would be very different in a few hours. Many actually lost their lives; others were left to deal with the aftermath, the loss of loved ones and the loss of security that changed so many forever. Such it was with my former student Eric last Thursday morning. He woke up, got ready for school, and started his day like any other this year. But an hour into the school day his world would change. As students jumped out of their cars and off of their buses to start classes that day, a popular football player, Anthony, was losing his life in a car accident a block from the school. Eric heard the news soon after, and unable to contain his grief, turned and put his hand through a window. This particular window was reinforced with a shatter resistant mesh, but it was no match for Eric's anger.

The next day, I received this message from my former student:

"Mrs. Rigsbee,
I don't know what to do..I'm so confused right now...I'm so confused and can't believe that he is gone...I talked to him two days ago, gave him a handshake, and chilled with him."

I thought about how Eric, like those folks on 9/11, had no warning. It seems so cruel to wake up and look at the day ahead and not know that something is going to bring you to your knees. I wondered if some type of warning would allow us time to brace ourselves for the blow, or if the pain would be just as sharp.

After corresponding with Eric, I promised to go to the high school to see him. I had the opportunity to do that today, a few hours before the funeral. The school arranged to transport the students to the church so I had to manuever around the buses lined up for the football team. But once I got in the building, I was able to pick Eric out of the crowd. Even though I taught him when he was twelve years old, and he now is seventeen, he's the same Eric, only a foot taller. We hugged and he showed me his stitches. I gave him my fastest version of "How to deal with grief and anger in ways that won't hurt you physically" as he walked me down the hall to reconnect me with some other former students.

When Steve walked out of his Spanish class, I couldn't believe how big he was! He looked like a professional football player. I said, "What in the world do you eat?!" His answer was simple - "Everything," he said. Still in shock over how tall Steve was, I barely heard Eric say, "There's Tyrell." I thought Little Tyrell - he was so small in seventh grade - surely he's not so big now - only to turn and see that he's taller than I am.

It's a strange feeling. My students will always be seventh graders to me. In my memory the boys are forever goofy and short and have squeaky little voices. These men standing before me today were a shock to behold. But the scenario made me think: although these guys will always be seventh graders in my mind, in reality they are getting older and bigger and taller.

But Anthony will forever be a 17 year old senior in high school. And that's why Eric is mad.

Eric, Tyrell, and Steve


Sunny said...

Wow, how powerful! I am so sorry that you and your kids have had to experience this, but thank you for sharing. We all need to be reminded of how fragile it all is.

Jane said...

Thanks for sharing this Cindi. We never really think about how fast life can change or how it can effect the students we care about. I had a parent once contact me years after her son had left me class. Her younger daughter had passed away suddenly from a ashma attack and Nelson was having a hard time with it. I spoke to him just briefly and found a few books I thought might help him continue to understand the life process and how unfair it could be. His mother told me that he read that book all the time.

Little gestures that we as teacher can do make such a huge impact on the lives of our children. I know those men, once boys, of yours, will always remember how their 7th grade teacher was there when they needed her and I am sure it will be forever appreciated.

I am sorry for yours and Eric's loss.

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