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.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mourning One of My Students

  1. Dear Leah, I found yr blog bc my new colleague is your former JCC colleague Christy M. & she told me abt yr post. You write so beautifully… I ❤️d your post. Yr presence at Ethan’s memorial meant so much. Like you, I knew that horrific things can happen but learned they can happen to me thru this experience. Before this, “this kind of nightmare happens to other people.” I also identified with yr words abt loving. Take it from me, Ethan’s mommy, there r no regrets loving him to the best of my ability. I whispered & repeated in his ear (in the hospital when we said goodbye) that I’d go through this agony over & over again bc it was so “worth it” to b his mommy for those 11 years. So I agree with you, as a teacher, too, that it’s profoundly important to love & nurture & give every child our best. We are so privileged to teach & have a purpose we’re passionate about. Thank u, Leah.

  2. Thank you for this wrenching, raw, real post. You’re so right: loss like this has no meaning.All we can do is grieve and hold each other close. You’re in my heart, dear Leah.

  3. thank you. it feels as if there are no words….because there aren’t, but you have found some to express what maybe a lot of us are feeling. Loving deeper at this time? The Kotzker Rebbe wrote, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” No one needs to remind any of us to love, though in times like this, all that love we carry on our hearts–with all the children and families we are fortunate to be with, suddenly falls through the cracks of our broken hearts, feeling that love at an even deeper place.

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