When Their Hearts Break

Three years ago yesterday, a lady who was very important to a lot of my Grade 6s (and the kids older than them), passed away unexpectedly.  She was their teacher.  She was the one they saw from 9-3:30, 5 days a week.  She meant a lot to those Grade 2 and 3 kids.  Probably more than she realized she did.

I wonder if she ever went home consciously aware of how much they loved her.

I never met her.  From what I’ve been told by the staff and by the kids, that’s my loss.  She was a wonderful woman, and a fantastic teacher.  She died the spring before I started at my school.  But she will never be forgotten.  Not by our staff members who knew her, not by the kids she taught, and not by me… because I’ve seen the fruits of the love she poured out on those kids.

In our playground, we have a tree that was planted last year on the anniversary of her death.  There’s a plaque on the ground dedicating the tree to her, and I’ve noticed in the year that’s followed that the kids will sometimes take a moment by it.  But on Friday, something beautiful happened.  Something that made me realize just how grown up Grade 6 kids can be sometimes.  They’re only 11 and 12 years old, but the beauty that oozed from their souls yesterday just floored me.

I was fortunate enough to be outside on yard duty, or I would never even have known.  I saw a small crowd gather around the tree so I went to investigate.  At the centre of the crowd were two of my Grade 6 girls, reading poems that they’d written expressing their gratitude to her as their teacher and as someone who always cared for them.  Their poems reminded us of her love for life, and told us that she’ll never be forgotten, as long as they live.  Those girls put a lot of thought into the memorial they wanted to have for their dear teacher.  And as they read, they cried.  They cried real tears of real pain, and as they trickled down their faces, the girls concluded that it’s all OK, because even though everyone here misses her so much, she’s in a better place and they’ll see her again.  When the reading was over, they pulled out an iPod and played their teacher’s favourite song:  I Believe.  Remember the theme song of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics? 

As the song played, several of the kids gathered around for the small memorial started to cry as well, but one just broke.  She started to sob.  Her friends gathered around her and wrapped their arms around her while she cried.  Her face got puffy and splotchy, and her eyes were red-rimmed and blood shot… and she didn’t care.  She was sad.  She missed her teacher.

Normally, I have a no-hug policy at school, based mostly on what can happen with accusations and what not… and most of the kids don’t really get it, they just want hugs.  I have one of my Grade 6s on a “one-a-day” ration, and have told her to make it count, because she’d sneak attack me in the halls to try to hug me without me noticing.  But yesterday I let that rule go, and we had a big hug-fest in front of the memorial tree.  I pulled this broken girl to me and I gave her the best hug I’ve ever given at school, and she looked at me and said “you give really good hugs!”

“Don’t get used to it,” I hugged a little tighter and I let her go.  She smiled; she knew that day was special.

Twenty minutes later I was teaching (or attempting to teach) Grade 5/6 Science.  I looked into the face of this beautiful girl.  A face worn from the emotion she’d let spill out twenty minutes prior… still slightly splotchy, still slightly red-rimmed around the eyes.  I looked at her friends.  I saw beautiful young ladies (on the inside and out) who did a beautiful thing for a beautiful woman (on the inside and out).  What hit me at that moment has stuck with me since yesterday at noon.  It was powerful.

They talk about it being OK that their teacher is gone, because they know she’s in a better place and they know they’ll see her again… and I pray to God that that is true.  That they DO know that, in their hearts.  I pray that they’re right.  I pray that she IS in a better place, and I pray that those girls will get there, too.

But did they mean it?  Or did they say it because it’s a comfort passed lightly to people who’ve lost someone they love?  “You’ll see them again, they’re in a better place now.”  Were they empty words attempting to bring comfort?  Or were they an anthem of hope raised to their Creator?

It really convicted me.  For me, one of the several reasons I teach in public schools and not in private is because I very strongly believe that the kids in public schools need Christian influences in their lives, too.  I know I can’t be directly outspoken about it, but there’s nothing that says I can’t exude Christ.  What convicted me was this… Do I?  Do I exude Christ when I teach?  Is the love of Jesus pouring out on these kids through me?  Or am I plowing through my material because I have report cards to write in two and a half months?

If I died suddenly, would they know that I’m in a better place because I’m transparent and because they knew?  Or would they say it out of a hollow attempt to make each other feel better?  I hope for the first, but I’ve sure been challenged by the grief of 12 year old girls to make sure Christ can be seen in me.

So I know these girls will most likely never read this.  I know they may never know how deeply I was impacted by their beautiful act of remembrance yesterday, and I know they may never know how challenged I was by the memory of their beloved teacher to be a better one myself.  The only two words I can say to sum this post up are these:  Challenge Accepted.


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