Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Feels Like Moving Away

Written By: Anachan - Jan• 10•16

Being a high school teacher in a small school is a little like suddenly gaining 120 nieces and nephews. I share their joys when they plan their quinceaneras, I rib them when they haven’t read their confirmation class materials, and I listen as they cry in frustration. Despite what some students may think, being a teacher means you learn to care deeply about those in your classes. And when tragedy strikes, it affects me, too.

The other day, I received word that an absent student’s elder brother, whom I had also taught a few years ago, had passed away. From the disjointed stories I could get from the other students, it appears he was caught up in a burglary of his apartment, where he was shot in the head. He remained in a coma for a few days, until he finally lost his battle Friday morning.

This is the second of my students (or former students) who have passed away. The first was last year, when a young lady suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with a disease which took her in a matter of weeks. She had been in two of my classes, rather quiet, perhaps because of her then-undiagnosed illness, but with a secret smile which would emerge at times, like a treasure which one has barely glimpsed. The morning after her death, a relative read an original poem, the creation of which had been assigned before the tragedy, in front of our class, a heartfelt piece,¬†pleading that her “sister” not leave her. The sincerity of the poem emboldened the other students in the class, who had been hesitant about reading their inner thoughts, to face the group from the front of the room and read their own work. And so the one who was absent influenced her class more than she ever had while living.

And now, I wonder what I will say to the young lady whose elder brother has passed away, especially since I have never experienced a personal tragedy of that magnitude.

I remember my first close experience with death. Sure, my great-grandfather had passed away when I was ten, but as he had lived far away and I had not known him well, it didn’t disturb me greatly. It was in my sophomore year of high school that death first impacted me in any measurable way, however small.

My family was living in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, at the time. Every afternoon, I rode the bus back from Buena High School, and sometimes, I talked with Chris Carter. Chris was a quiet, tow-headed boy a year ahead of me in school, with a way of noticing things and of looking at you as if he could see right into your soul.

One day, as I waited at the bus stop, desperately hoping that other kids would not bother me, one girl tried to tease me about a book she found in the stack I clutched in my arms.

“Is that a Bible?” she asked incredulously.

From some distance to the side, Chris replied, “It’s a Book of Mormon.”

That was the first time I realized Chris had actually noticed my existence. And not only had he noticed my existence, he knew something more than just the superficial–blonde hair, average height, painfully shy. He somehow knew I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in other words, a Mormon.

It was that quality of being painfully shy which kept me from knowing him too well, but after that day, I noticed his existence, too. I greeted him at the bus stop, sometimes speaking beyond simple greetings; I watched for him as he cut across my front lawn in the late afternoon on his paper route, when I practiced ping-pong against the upturned other half of the table on the screened-in front porch; and I even developed a small crush on him. He was sweet, and everyone knew him to be honorable.

One day, he did not pass by my house.

I learned the story later on. That weekend, Chris and his father had gone up to the mountains with some other neighbors on a hunting trip, returning in the evening, after a long day. Apparently, Chris’s father was very tired, so he asked his more alert son to drive the truck on their way home. While his father slept, Chris must have become sleepy, himself, for he ended up running the truck off the road, killing them both.¬†Weariness and vehicles are a deadly combination.

The emptiness before my house now held meaning.

Strangely enough, however, though I knew what had happened to him, I did not feel like he was dead. As a military kid, I was used to moving or having other people move away from me. In Chris’s absence, I saw nothing particularly strange; I just felt that he had moved away.

The interesting thing about it all is that, in a manner of speaking, that is exactly what he had done. I believe that death is not the end of our existence and that one day, we can meet our friends and loved ones again, on the other side. We miss those who move, even though we know we may one day meet again. In the same way, we miss those who die, but we can have the hope that one day, we will meet to laugh and rejoice with each other, through the atoning sacrifice and grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As a public school teacher, however, this is not something I can explain to my student. I can only show my love and hope she has her own faith sufficient to carry her through this time.

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