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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Occupational Hazards of the Teaching Life...

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry I had to remove due to confidentiality issues. Never mind that I didn't include my student's name, or the name of the school I teach in (I always refer to it as "the Academy"), or that I don't even use my real name in this blog. I had to remove it, and it was painful because I felt I was airing feelings and emotions that spoke for most of those who knew this exceptional young woman. My student, D.C., died of cancer on Monday after a struggle that lasted two years. She was in my class twice, and she worked with me on some video/music montages of the senior class she was a part of. When I heard the news that she had a relapse in October and that this time it was going to be even more critical, I spun into a rage against everything I believed or even professed faith for. That was the entry I posted and later took down. Now that she is gone, I am posting it again. I am doing this because the pain (not only mine but all who knew her here at the Academy and beyond) is so overwhelming and deep that going on with life and work seems nearly impossible at the present. I made some corrections after recovering it (thanks Ms. Stefanie for sending me a copy of it)... here it is...

"A few days ago, I heard that one of my students is in relapse and possibly dying of cancer. Two years ago, she fought hard and won her battle in a display of courage that will remain a lesson to me for the rest of my life. To this day, her example is one of the most selfless acts of courage I have ever seen (including during my military service). I am not exaggerating when I say that. She is simply amazing. Her heart, her bright smile in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds... nothing is lost, or in vain. She has taught me how to be a better human being. I am afraid that whatever I say here is going to sound like some tired cliche, but it's simply a sign that there are NO words to describe what is going through my mind right now.

I don't have children of my own. When I told the story of my student to a friend of mine, his response was just that. "I mean," he said sternly, "it's not like she's your daughter, or anything." I kept quiet in front of him, but I cried on the drive home... more out of anger than anything else. This is not fair, and I don't have to like it. I can enumerate the reasons why I think my student doesn't deserve this, but I suspect that also would be an exercise in futility. I have cursed and howled madly in the direction of passing clouds just because my anger gets the best of me. I have bargained with God this past week like an unregulated Wall Street bookie. It has gone as far as me thinking of that scene from "Amadeus" in which Salieri, feeling cheated by God's gift of talent to Mozart, says to a crucifix on the wall: "From now on we are enemies... you and I..." My faith has never been weaker than it is right now. And those who tell me that we have to understand God's plan for my student dying of cancer never explain to me that this trick of "understanding" takes a great deal of time. I have gone from feeling that faith is going to carry us all through this, to declaring my unreserved antagonism against religion and the facade of peace it offers. I have remunerated, grappled and screamed, shouted and cried again. I have felt confused, cheated, ridiculed and humbled. Of course, it's not like she's my daughter or anything.

It is said love can make us do strange things. These are the reasons behind and underneath the "rat race," the things we live for.... to subtract the most meaning out of life one must be willing to lose a lot (or a little), and do it all in the name of love. Take away all of the "sugar-coating" about "teachers changing the world," etc., etc. ad naseum, and boil it down to the pain and anger and confusion, sadness of losing a student to cancer. Okay, so I understand that part, but I don't like it and presently I am unwilling to accept it. It's not right and it's not fair. But then again, it's not like she's my daughter or anything."

I have accepted now, and my faith is stronger than ever... she taught us all how to reverse the process of losing faith and in the process made us all stronger people. She was the light of life for her family, friends, and certainly her teachers. May God bless you now and forever, D.C. We will see you again some day.

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At 6:29 PM, Blogger Stefanie said...

I am, as you know, very sorry for your loss. But I am glad I was able to provide you with the original post lodged in my feed reader. Grief is never easy, but I am glad you have been able to find a new strength. you student would probably be happy about that.


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