Thursday, October 18, 2012

on helplessness.

i just don't know what to say to or how to help many of my students this week.  they are dealing with a very difficult situation the best way they can, and i, the person who is supposed to be their leader, have no words to guide them.

perhaps a bit of explanation is helpful.

i teach at a school that has a large number of dual credit students--high school juniors and seniors who are taking college level courses.  the high school that nearly all of my students this semester come from has experienced the death of two students in three days.

those of you in the dfw area have probably seen/heard the news.  sunday afternoon, a seventeen year old student was cliff-diving at a local lake with some friends--out celebrating the week's victories and generally being young.  he jumped into the 70' deep water and didn't surface.  search teams are still trying to locate his body. 

this kid was a football and academic star at his high school and a dual credit student in one of my colleague's classes.

while i didn't know this young man personally, i do have many of his very good friends, fellow football players, and classmates in my own classes.  including his best friend since kindergarten.

this kid's best friend, my student, was there when he dove off the cliff.  he made the 911 call.  he faced what no eighteen year old should have to: the death of his best friend.

i simply cannot imagine what he must have felt.  i don't know how i would be able to process the situation and move on.  the fact that he was in my classroom powering through a midterm today speaks volumes about the content of his character and strength.

my student is one of those big, goofy guys with a great nature and the ability to laugh at everything.  he's silly, and everyone seems to like him.  i sincerely hope that this event doesn't change him--that his nature stays intact.  i hope that he is getting the help he needs to get through this--whatever that looks like.

on tuesday, another of their classmates died, this one from suicide.  nothing much has been reported on it, but my students--just beginning to catch their breaths--were left empty once again. 

now there are two empty chairs in their classrooms.  two lockers that will have to be cleaned out by parents.  two open seats in the lunchroom.

it's been a sad week on campus.  everywhere you look there are red-rimmed eyes, tissues, solemn faces, and willing counselors.  the "traditional" college students have no idea what's going on; they look around at the sadness and seem a bit lost.

we have been encouraged by the administration to be "lenient" and "compassionate," and that obviously makes sense, but what i'm struggling with is the balance.  how can i serve both masters?  how can i, someone dealing with her own grief, ask these poor kids to buck up and continue working on some seemingly meaningless research paper?  how can i ignore the bigger knowledge that this week will not define their lives--that they are still very much alive--and allow them to slack off?  i want to take it easy on them, but i still have to teach them.

but teach them what, exactly?  english/composition/rhetoric/research strategies is the easy answer.  but i feel like i should be giving them more--especially now.  they don't know i'm grieving, too, for someone else entirely.  they don't know that they aren't alone in this gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, life-altering time. 

basically, i feel helpless.

nothing i say or do is going to help them through their pain--their grief.  i know this, because nothing that has been said to me has helped me in any real way.  grief is an individual process; everyone has to find his own path.

but i do want them to know i'm here.  i'm thinking about them and what they are going through.  my heart is breaking for them.

but i don't know how to say it or even if i should.  so i remain silent, unsure, restless, and sad.