Thoughts on Mourning One of My Students

Today I did something horrible.  I went to a memorial service for a former student.  He was in my pre-k class seven years ago.  I remember him zooming around the classroom  in a homemade cape, looking for villains to thwart.   A blessing of working where I do, at the Jewish Community Center, is that students and their families don’t just stay in my heart, they often stick around the building.  As the children grow, I get to see them  every once in a while.  Even at an age where some kids get a little smarmy, he maintained a cheerful smile and abundant enthusiasm.  Recently, he got a  bacteria in his body that killed him.

I am not able to use the gift of philosophical rationality to make sense of or find meaning in this.  Making sense of this is what philosophers would call a ‘category mistake’, like measuring the height of a song.  Songs just aren’t the kind of things that have height, and brute occurrences like this do not have meaning. They just are, and it just sucks.

It is not news to me, or any adult, that very bad things happen.  But how do we live with this knowledge?  How do we be with children knowing that such heinousness can occur?

At the ceremony in his memory, mourners simultaneously  threw stones into a lake, with intentions for or memories about this boy.  The ripples went out and out from each stone, overlapping and interacting in beautiful ways as they met.  This is what a community is like, the Rabbi said, this is how we each touch each other’s lives.  I feel honored to have been a part of his and his family’s lives.

Loving people means opening ourselves to the possibility of deep pain.  Loving children creates an especially deep vulnerability.  Some may say that his death ought to serves as a reminder  to be loving, as none of us know what the future holds.  I say fuck that.  This serves nothing.  the people at the center of this horror didn’t need the reminder.  They already were loving and cherished their child. Most of us in the outer ripples weren’t running around being assholes, either.

His death will not spur me to love deeper, but it won’t stop me. It. won’t. stop. me.  Loving him was worth it.   Struggling with, and teaching, and loving children always is.

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