Sunday, May 13, 2012

The world is a better place for him having been in it

Maybe this is just selfish catharsis, but a student of mine died this morning and I'm writing about it. The feelings will out, I just discovered, dissolving into tears while typing his name in farewell.

Today, I stared at the face of my 3 month old niece while the death of a beautiful 19 year old rattled around in my mind. The sun was shining. He was gone. Spring is here. He is gone. He was ill, and now he is gone.

I can't think of any other reason besides love that leaves me sitting here with tears dripping down my chin. We call students "our kids"- we call them "ours". I think I'm realizing that the term has or had nothing to do with ownership, and everything to do with love, or pride- some kind of attachment or connection. And it works both ways. We are theirs as much as they are ours. When one is lost, so are we.

 I hadn't felt it in sadness before, how all the students would always matter to me, long after they walk out of the classroom for the last time. Always, and not in a small way.

Students are supposed to move on. Why else do we teach them: preparation for the future, right? You'll thank me later. You'll need this later. One day you'll think back to this, and... "Future, future, future."

Teachers remain behind, in space and in time. Locked away in our classrooms, sure, but also in the memories of the students we teach. For many we'll always be wearing that sweater, those glasses, or the haircut that they remember on us. Telling that same joke. I know all about that- it's something I accepted when I became a teacher: the knowledge that for a while I would matter to these people, and after a while, I wouldn't. I'd be a memory, and then only sometimes. That, I'm ready for. I'm ready to be left behind. Being left behind is easy.

Being forced to move on is not. It's that hopeless plea of "don't leave me here". Here becomes anywhere you aren't. I'm still here, and you aren't. I'm going to get older, and you aren't. I'm going to laugh again, one day.

I have a photo of this boy up on the wall behind my desk, a gift, and it will always remain there. That white jacket. The glasses, the hair. That smile.