When I first heard about one of our students dying tragically, I was in shock. I would say it took a good 10 minutes before it sank in and then I started to cry. I cried those awful, deep, racking sobs that make you think you may never get ahold of yourself. I felt so sad not just for the loss of such a nice young man, but for all my kids who I knew would be devastated. For two nights I have not slept, knowing that today I would have to walk in our school and futilely attempt to be some comfort to students who are not only grief-stricken, but traumatized and asking, perhaps for the first time in their lives, the Big Questions: Why? Why would God do this? How am I going to get through this? Is life ever going to be the same?
I have planning my first period, so my job was basically to walk the English hall and escort students to the counseling center as needed. A door would open up, a sobbing student would be escorted out into the hall, and suddenly there we were. I wasn't sure what to do....most of the kids, I don't even know. Finally, I decided to gently take the arm of a 6' tall, 200 lb. young man. He turned to me, put his arms around me, and sobbed, hugging me like I was his mother. This happened over and over for the next hour. I finally just wrapped an arm around each child and not one pulled away. It was just so....raw. I realized how much these students need us. It doesn't matter if they know who we are necessarily--we represent security to them.
The next 3 periods, I was in class. My normally chatty 10th graders were silent. Many sat at their desks and cried quietly. I tried to pull them out into the hall, give them a chance to go to counseling, asked friends to sit with them and comfort them--and then in desperation, offered them peanut butter cups (that usually got a smile). The good news is that this was a bonding experience for my students and me. They know I care. With that in mind, I am going to the candlelight vigil tonight. I feel that I must be there for them.
With this group in particular, its not enough to just say you care. They have heard so many empty words. You have to put your money where your mouth is. One of my students wailed to me how he never had a father, had lost his mother at a young age, and had been raised by his grandmother, who also died. The boy who died was his cousin and it was another unimaginable loss to someone who at 16 has experienced more loss than I have at 42.
I actually had a teacher tell me that tomorrow may be worse than today. God help us all. I'm definitely going to need more peanut butter cups.