The John Donne poem is forever haunting, but especially today, a day when death has reached its fingers into my life and the lives of so many people I love.
I really struggled with whether to write this at all. I didn’t know her that well, beyond a few good conversations and smiles in passing, and I wouldn’t pretend to have been hit any harder by this than so many of the other people in her life who knew her far better. But it’s given me lots to think about. Lots to put into perspective. Why I do what I do, why I feel what I feel, what this means for me and what it means for my students.
Yesterday morning a girl I went to college with – she’s only 20 – was hit by the MetroRail (a lightrail train that runs above-ground through downtown Houston) while riding her bike. She was killed instantly. I made the mistake of looking up the incident in the local newspaper and was horrified to read the gruesome details of what happened. I won’t even write it here, because it makes me feel sick, so I can suppose you can look it up yourself to read later while you keep in mind what a beautiful and loving soul this girl was.
I first heard the news at about 11:30, the first time I checked Facebook on my phone. I sat in shock through all of lunch and stumbled my way back upstairs to our third professional development session of the day. I told our session facilitators what had happened and they were so sweet to me. They didn’t judge me when I came back from the bathroom in tears, or when I couldn’t eat because I was so upset, or when I was kind of checked out for a few hours. I didn’t want to be that vulnerable in what is supposed to be a deeply professional situation, but life does those sorts of things, and I got a beautiful email from one of the facilitators just now that made me cry because of how personal and warm it was.
I feel raw and torn open, feelings pouring from all the places I didn’t know I had feelings and tears coming at all the wrong times. I’d taken for granted what it meant to be in college – where everyone knew me and each other – and at Institute – where people knew me somewhat, and knew each other somewhat, but there was still a community. I’m not really part of a community right now. And it’s hard to work through this by myself.
I don’t understand why things like this happen. I didn’t understand it before this and I especially don’t understand it now. One death is no more heartbreaking than another but there’s something about this one that leaves me aching with a sadness that comes from deep within. She was an architecture major. A gloriously creative soul. She was one of the most artistic people I knew and it was such a blessing in the world of a university filled with lots of science and engineering and numbers and lines and logic. She smiled at everyone, she waltzed through campus carrying herself with the air of someone who feels so fulfilled by this world. She challenged all of us to live a little more happily and love a little more fiercely.
I look at all the love this beautiful person brought to the world, and it makes me think of the quote I first heard during Induction that has stuck with me ever since: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Caring for our children is the greatest form of love we can give, a love that lives on long past the time when we depart this earth, as heartbreakingly-too-soon as that may be. Love is hard and scary because it makes us vulnerable, in the same way teaching and caring makes us vulnerable, because we put ourselves out there to be hurt and disappointed and heartbroken.
When we perform acts of love – through teaching, caring, reaching out to one another, breaking down the social barriers that divide our hearts from each other – we live life the way it was meant to be lived. A life full of noisy beauty and echoing glory that reaches into the farthest corners of these little worlds we create for ourselves. A life lived out loud rather than turned inwards. A life that lives long after we are gone.
I ache for her, for her friends, for all those she touched with her spirit and life. I ache for all the people who will never have the opportunity to meet her. I ache for the thousands of people across the country who deal with the loss of their loved ones every day, their loved ones killed not by trains but by other people or societal injustice or mental demons or any of those things which rip open the fragility of our own humanity.
Tomorrow I will go back to training. Tomorrow is another day and life will stubbornly march on, just as it always does, and yet my own world has shifted just a bit. I don’t understand how, exactly; all I can hope for is that someday this will make just a bit more sense. The world is so awful and beautiful and strange all at the same time.
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.