Death is my kryptonite.
There is something about the finality of death that I have trouble wrapping my mind around. I don’t do visitations or funerals except in extreme circumstances and even then, I limit the things I view. My heart doesn’t want to remember a loved one in that state; instead, I choose to remember them through my favorite personal experiences that we shared together.
During the course of the past three school years, our community has been forced to deal with the passings of four of our students through three separate incidents. To say that life is a precious thing would be an understatement; to say that these youth left us far too soon would not justify the lasting impact they have made on this world.
As educators, we take a myriad of educational courses to prepare us for pedagogy, classroom management, and lesson planning. As educational leaders, we take courses that “prepare” us to deal with the daily ebbs and flows of what it means to serve in the community of education. But the cold, harsh truth of the matter is that no amount of schooling can or ever will prepare us for the news that one of our very own has been taken from us.
I vividly recall receiving the news from each of the three incidents. I remember feeling my heart sink to the depths of my soul. I remember the tears that filled my eyes each time. And I remember the hollowing sense of empathy I felt for each of their parents that had to receive that dreadful news.
I love my kids with all of my heart. For whatever reason, I have a special place in my heart for my “at-risk” kids. In all honesty, I’m not even sure where this adoration started. I was never labeled “at-risk,” nor can I relate to many of the hardships that these kids have to endure and survive. But somewhere along the way, I developed a desire to help these kids realize that there is hope for a better tomorrow.
During the past four years, I befriended a pair of brothers and set out to serve as a beacon for them in their educational journey. These two young men were dealt a tough hand to play, to say the least. In reality, not only were they beaten up by life’s cards, they were weathered by the cards of the educational system as well.
The oldest of the brothers is a sports fanatic, which is where our relationship began. He was and still is extremely passionate about this sports teams, and, specifically, about his Portland Panthers. He attends any and all Portland High School athletic events that he possibly can. He can rattle off statistics and play-calls that would impress even the most seasoned sports enthusiast.
The younger brother wasn’t into sports or Portland High School nearly as much. Instead, he was a gamer and an absolute wizard with apps on his cell phone. Two years younger than his older brother, I’ll never forget the first time his older sibling brought him into my room one day after school. I addressed him simply by his nickname: Fireball.
To say that “fireball” is the perfect moniker for this young man would be putting it mildly. He would hit my door like a tornado talking a thousand miles an hour and walk right back out doing just the same. He only knew one gear, and that was overdrive. I never once saw him without a smile on his face or heard a single complaint leave his mouth despite the hardships he was forced to endure. In reflecting, Fireball probably didn’t view them as hardships, but instead as his simple reality. That statement alone shatters my heart to its core.
Fireball was taken from the harsh reality of life last week.
It cracks me up how people are quick to make posts on social media to lament his life. Where were you when he needed a ride to or from school on a cold or rainy day instead of riding his bike, because that was his only alternative? Where were you when he needed his clothes washed? Where were you when he needed food to eat? Where were you when the young man just wanted to be heard, to be listened to, to be cared for, to have a voice? WHERE WERE YOU??? But you can damn sure make a post on social media now, because that might make you look good in the eyes of others or at least make you feel good as a person.
There is no glory in the forgotten.
We all strive for the spotlight. It’s human nature. As such, we do things that will put us in the best possible position to attain that spotlight. As educators, we all want to teach the honor kids, to coach the winning sports teams, and to sponsor the award-winning clubs and extracurriculars because there is “fulfillment” that is associated with it. But the truth is, nobody cares about your test scores, your athletic accomplishments, or your club’s trivial awards. Nobody cares. The sooner you can realize and accept this reality, the better off your life will be and the more you will be able to help others.
The incredible part about being an educator is that each and every single day, we have the opportunity to make an immeasurable impact on tomorrow. How are you making an impact? How many lost souls are currently in your building, just waiting, begging, for an adult to see them, to hear them, to simply acknowledge them?
I will always wonder if I could have done more. I will always wonder if I could have said more. I will always wonder if he knew how much I cared, how much time I spent thinking about him, and how much I loved him and wanted him to have the chance at a better tomorrow. I will always wish that my door would fly open one more time, with him busting through like a bat out of hell, talking nonstop until the second he left.
My heart will always yearn…for one more shot of Fireball.
I love you little buddy.