Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rest in Peace

One of my students was brutally murdered this year. This is my letter to him.

Dearest Christopher,

It's taken me a while to be able to express the words that I wanted to share with you since February.

Your death came as a complete surprise, as you were a good student. 

Maybe because I didn’t think good students get murdered, especially not the way you were. 

Maybe it was so shocking because it shook up my preconceived notions.

I reacted worse to your death than I ever thought I would to a non-family member.  You were a student, yes, someone I knew fairly well and someone whom I nurtured for nearly four years. 

I guess I didn't realize the emotional connection that I do have to my students, and their lives, and the situations they come out of - or don't.

I guess I was surprised that, upon hearing of your shooting murder, it felt like a large boulder of pain had dropped on the center of my chest. Why did I break down sobbing uncontrollably, first in my car and then at my desk, unable to even form the horrific words to tell my husband on the phone what happened to you?

Why did I feel compelled to craft a passionate and somber letter to our city’s mayor, calling on him to find your killer and fight the increasing violence in our city? 

Why did I spend weeks kicking myself for not properly thanking you when, on the day before you were shot during a basketball game, you were the only student to show up and help me set up at our annual conference? 

And kicking myself some more for not sitting down with you more often, just talking, digging deeper, mentoring, and helping you? For being so busy with so many work tasks and the undulation of daily life that I missed something so big – this is the worst part of all –  that I didn’t even know you were possibly mixed up in something or someone bad? 

Why do I find myself so close to tears when writing this even now, nine months later? Why did I solicit money for your family, read your journal over and over, lead students to plan an anti-violence walk in your name and pack up all your items to send to your family?  Why did I struggle so hard to comfort other grieving students, because I was grieving so much myself?

What, pray tell, do you tell a teenager who is crying because their best friend was shot in the head several times for no reason, anyway? What kinds of cliche words could have possibly made them feel any better, or safer?

But enough of the why's. Your loss was huge for me. It still is. The fact is, I think of you often. Sometimes I can shake it, and push your face out of my mind. 

But you were my student, and I do take some responsibility for your life. You were violently killed for no apparent reason in the city I grew up in. And the city has moved on.

Your killer is still at large. 

I can’t believe this sick person still walks among us, maybe at the mall, at the grocery store, or maybe he is even one of those teenage boys that stare in the car next to me at stoplights.

Some days I dwell. I fear this unknown person. I wonder what he looks like.

I wonder what could have been of your young life.

I recall all the questions you had about college. How on track you were with your applications. How you and your mom stayed late and re-filled the financial aid form with me, twice, after the computer froze on you. So you’d have the money to go to college.

I wonder how your freshman year would be going. I wonder how you would have changed, blossomed, and matured -- as kids in poverty often do when they leave this town. 

I picture you a young man away from the darkness of this city and his pieced-together family, a young man turning into a burgeoning, educated person, surrounded by different college-minded friends with bright futures.

I think about how close you were (two months shy of graduation) to this reality.

But instead of walking across the graduation stage, you landed violently into a coffin.

Instead many people walked against violence in your name this summer under a hot sun, standing in the park you were killed in. Then they went home and moved on. 

Instead your face sits soul-less staring out from a t-shirt (red, the color of the pavement beneath your head when they found you) folded in the bottom of my dark dresser drawer. A t-shirt I have no reason to ever wear again.

Instead your killer gets to have a life. 

He gets the freedom to continue a violent life and kill, again, and again …. and again. 

Do you know who your killer is, Chris? Can you tell us please?

See, the thing is, he freely roams in my city where my other students roam, where my family and my friends and my nieces roam. He has ample opportunity to take away more young lives.

I often see our mayor at the gym, energetic, stretching after a run. The one with the goofy smile who went to private school his whole life and graduated from Harvard. The same mayor who never responded to my letter about you.

Sometimes I want to walk up to him and start screaming. 

I want to ask him: Why is our police force so inadequate that a teenager(s) can get away with murder in broad daylight in a park? Or, do the powers that be just not care about deaths like his on that side of town?

That is the real question.

That is the question that haunts me. Does it haunt you, Chris?

I think of my faith, and it’s perseverance in the face of some of the traumatic things I’ve been through the past few years. I know the taste of setbacks and hurt and disappointment. I know our lives don't always go as we would hope. I want to believe that God had a plan for you and that plan just couldn’t play out here on earth. 

And although I try to warn my students of the dangers of the world, I know I can’t prevent it all. I know I can’t save everyone. I know it's not up to me. All of our lives ebb and flow -- we are but stones tossed into the unpredicting swell of the river that is life. I do believe we all have a predetermined ending. I am not afraid of death itself. 

But what I don’t get is the capability of random hatred and violence in human beings. It’s something I struggle with.

Your death made me feel something different that I haven’t felt before. Your death made me want to change something. Your death shook up some of my ideas of “home.”

It made me want to rise up and fight something. 

Chris, your death has left a knot as blood red and angry as your t-shirt, down deep in my being.

Do you feel this too? Or are you at peace now?

Your memory made me remember the importance of my job. It made me remember that, even in the busy crazy times, I’ve got to sit down and really talk to my students about their lives.

It changed me as a person, as tragedy does.

I guess what I want to say is, even though people don’t talk about you much nine months later …

You are not forgotten.

I remember you.  

I’m sorry that I didn’t do more for you when you were alive. 

You deserved the chance to go to college and have a good life.

I’m sorry that they still haven’t found your killer. 

I care, even if they don’t.

And I’m so sorry for what happened to you.

Miss Melissa

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Only in my Dreams ...

Last night, I had that dream again.

The same version I’ve had throughout my life. It’s mostly about academic strife and being lost – some strange vestige of my childhood psyche.

It’s always about the same: Not being able to find my classroom, not having the tools for class, not able to get to class, or missing several classes and not being able to catch up when I get back to class. It usually encompasses some form of being totally lost while trying to get to my class. Sometimes it’s a version of me as a child -- becoming more and more scared and tangled in a labyrinth of rainbow-colored elementary school halls.

Other times, I am a high school teen in fashionable clothes (the kind I never had in high school but always wished I did), completely unable to get to class in a larger-than-life drab building with lots of stairs. It’s like my legs are stuck in cement and no matter how long I slog on, the class never appears. It’s very fitting that in the teenage version I don’t seem to care as much about not being able to find class, at least at first -- until it hits me about a half hour into the class, like a wall of pure dread: I have no idea how to get to my class. I haven’t been to my class all year, I’ve never been able to get there, and I’m going to flunk. In fact, I don’t even think I have the book for the class. I’m doomed. How will I ever make up all my missed homework? What have I done?

Last night was a newer version: I was in college. Or maybe some professional school or work training. All I know is there were lots of adults around, and I felt like an adult. There were groups of happy-looking professionals taking pictures together. I was in a strange old fashioned dark building with domed ceilings, brick, and decorated tile architecture with antique wood benches. It seemed sort of like a big hotel or convention center, but a really old one. I had to get to a classroom somewhere, but things were blocking my way: Strange doorways that looked like a classroom might be behind them, but they opened up instead into large luncheon buffet areas. A large wooden bench blocked my way in a hallway, only to find that the top part swung sideways on a hinge so I could open it and climb over it. Or, I would turn to go down a hallway where I thought my class was, only to find there were three hallways that looked exactly the same, slanting in slightly different directions. There were other weird parts as well that I can’t remember, they are just too fuzzy.

For some reason this dream hit home more than the others. I guess because it’s been a long time since I’ve had one and it took this particular dream to realize this is a recurring theme that has seemed to stick with my all of my adult life. It brought back the memory of all the other dreams. 

So what does it mean?

I mean, I know I have always been directionally-challenged, that is no secret. I was once told I could “get lost in a round room,” and unfortunately I couldn’t disagree with that. I tend to get lost easy. Definitely in big weird hotel/conference center buildings. I’m sure I got lost a lot when I was little looking for classes as well.

But I don’t recall it ever filling me with absolute dread or causing me to miss an entire class. I also struggled a lot with academics as a child, so that could be another branch of my subconscious messing with me. I stayed up late at night reading, so I was always tired in school. I tended to daydream rather than focus and I just didn’t apply myself well. I got through high school with the least amount of effort I could to get by. I snuck away from the lunchroom to read poetry in the library. I was too caught up in my emotions and boyfriends, and I was a bit of late bloomer in the maturity department. 

I remember getting to college and being surprised at my academic ability, like: “Wait, all I have to do is study and do my homework and I can get A’s? Ohhh ...”

I do remember being frustrated with my seeming inability to focus and figure out how to get good grades when I was younger. But again, I don’t know if that was enough to cause a lifetime of recurring dreams.

So I don’t think these dreams are really about being lost or missing class at all.

I think it’s something else. The dreams must be a reference to something I just can’t reach in my adult life. Something that is blocking my way, altering my route, and messing with my head. Somewhere I’m trying to get, but just can’t figure out how. That thing I need that is just out of my reach.

If I’m honest with myself, I’d say there are a few things like that going on right now.  I’m in a rut when it comes to some life goals I am desperately trying to reach, and I’m having a hard time finding my way out. Some things I’m trying to accomplish lately seem out of my control, no matter how hard I try. I’m not a quitter, but I’ve begun to find myself wondering whether I’ll ever get said goals -- and that fills me with dread.

But maybe … I should learn from my dreams.

Just maybe, it’s a way for my subconscious to reveal that I have what I need to get there – just like I did as a child.

Back then, I couldn’t figure it out yet because I wasn’t in a place to “get it” emotionally. I need a strategy to get to where I need to be, but I just don’t know how to find it yet because it hasn’t been revealed to me. It’s lurking out there somewhere, behind a weird door that I haven’t opened yet. I need to think about it, and pray on it more.

I’ve got to find that lost classroom.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

15 pet peeves from a pessimistic optimist

Okay, So I know that my whole premise for this little journal blog is optimism, defeating our obstacles to success, blah blah blah ...

But today, I am feeling like a good ol' rant is in store. The older I get, the less patience I have for inconsiderate, mean, or ignorant behavior. Some things have been bothering me lately (about human kind in general), and so here I vent.

1.) Please please, please, good God do not abuse animals - and yes, that includes throwing rocks at geese and chasing them while I am trying to enjoy my scenic lake run. Someone should throw a rock at you and see how you like it.

2.) If you consistently mumble, refuse to look directly at me when you are talking to me, or talk under your breath, do not be offended or upset when I do not understand you and have to ask for clarification. That is your issue. Speak up.

3.) a.) I am sorry if you only feel vindicated in life by stirring up conflict and drama and looking at every situation in a negative light. I am a lover, not a fighter. If you are still upset over something that happened at work three years ago that had nothing to do with me, too bad for you. That victim mentality must be fun for you. I won't be attacked when I'm just trying to do my job and help young people to the best of my ability. You are a poison to my career and everyone around you. b.) If you think we are going to get along by starting a fight with me about small insignificant things every day, that is not sustainable for the long run. Good luck with that.

4.) Do not trust people who gossip. That includes work, friends, and sometimes your own family. Also, do not trust gossip when you hear it. Many times, it's not even accurate. The sad part is, the people who gossip all the time actually think they are getting away with it, except we all know who "that" person is, and we don't tell them anything.

5.) Now that God has brought good things into my life, some people seem upset about that. All I can say is I feel sorry for them and now I know who is not really on my side. They say you find out who really cares when you go through hard times, but the same can be said about really good times. If you can't find it within yourself to genuinely celebrate my success with me, just as I would for you, that is a major problem (with you). Everything I have, I have received through prayer, hard work, good choices, sweat and discipline. It's not easy, but over time, and after having gone through Hell and back, I am in a good place, and I deserve it. You don't like that, you can kick rocks. Oh, and get out of my life.

6.) Don't repeat what I just said and tell me to do it, when I just told you I was going to do it, as if you need to feel like you are in control of my every move. Don't repeat an idea I had and pass it off as your idea later. That is freakin' infuriating and I will act accordingly.

7.) Don't tell a racist joke around me, or engage in some other kind of stereotypical name calling, etc. I will give you the evil eye, possibly call you out in front of everyone, and make a mental note to not keep company with you anymore. No, it is not okay. Grow up.

8.) Don't show off something that is not yours to show off. Don't steal my thunder. If I work hard for something, I decide when and how I want to show it off. It's even worse if you go behind my back and I'm not even invited to show off my success. Goes back to #4 gossip and #5 haters. I find this pathetic.

9.) This one goes out to "those" men age 50 and older that I sometimes encounter at work: Do not treat me like a child and call me "darling" or "honey." Do not compliment/make constant comments about my clothes or how well they "fit my body style." Or how pretty my eyes are. We are at an office at an internationally known research university, not at the Irish pub down the street. Do not underestimate my work savvy and the fact that I will smile and continue to let you think I am a dumb blond and completely blow you out of the water and make you look stupid when it's time to get down to business.

10.) Do not get angry at me or act weird when I only want to have one or two drinks, or don't feel like drinking at all. Do not pre-pour my wine or cocktail at a dinner party so I feel like I have to drink it, even if I wasn't planning on drinking. I might be on a diet, I meet be trying to get pregnant, I might be driving. Either way, it's none of your business and you should not just "assume" I need to drink just because you are.

11.) If the only topic of discussion you have with me is to ask me about everything you have seen on my Facebook wall in the past six months, we obviously aren't that close. Find something else to talk about.

12.) If you miss work constantly and give a million "sick" excuses (like once a week), we know you are not sick. Really. Unless you have some sort of chronic illness you have not shared with us, you are not sick that much. Just tell us you need a personal day, or you have meetings outside the office or something. Seriously. Just. Stop. I don't feel good either every day, but I still show up.

13.) Do not continue to hold things from the past over my head, like embarrassing things I did as a kid, or mistakes I made as a teenager. That was more than ten years ago, I am not that person, and it seriously concerns me that you somehow feel the need to continue to put me down in this manner. In fact, I've made some serious accomplishments in the past ten years, and that is what you should focus on.

14.) Do not make negative comments about my family, my husband, or anyone I love. I don't care who you are, it is uncalled for and makes me immediately defensive of them. If you are not me, you don't have a right. It is especially unkind if you are one of those people I love making comments about other people I love. That puts me in bad position.

15.) If you do not learn from your mistakes, and continue to repeat the same behavior over and over, you might as well bang your head against the wall because you are only hurting yourself.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ten feet away

I hide in the bathtub this evening.
Sipping berry-tart red wine.
I'm swimming in sweet smelling joyous bubbles, like marshmallows in the steam
Tiny opulescent arcs stick to my my hair, my nose, my toes.

I listen to folksy music,
with a wet remote in one hand.
Guitars, sad women with tales to tell,
Poetry set to music.

I throw in a few worship tunes for good measure
In my small bathroom; A barricade of  peace
Four walls of contentment, a ceiling of recovery,
A solid door of comfort.

I think there of writing and how I should do it more often
I think of life, and love, and nostalgia.
I find a shred of my creative former self.
It's amazing what you can find with steaming hot water over your ears.

Outside the door shouts the
of the automatic machine guns and the click of re-loading
The zoot-zoon of the flash bombs, the light so bright.

The fire, blood and barking attack dogs.
The yelling, screaming sounds of men in battle.
With surround sound, the living room is a war.
That is, the war of the video game my husband has been playing for the past two hours.

It is a boys' game for a grown up problem.
A spilling  overflow of testosterone.
A strangely realistic re-enactment-
of wars in strange lands, of past times, of real terror.

Our favorite things to do
somehow as distant as two rooms in the same house,
Soaking behind my door of comfort,
ten feet away.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

This I believe

I believe I sit at Jesus’s feet every day.
Looking up in pure awe and wonder... 
sometimes in utter confusion.

I know I must do the best I can.
I know I have to allow compassion to guide even the hardest of decisions.

I believe this life is worth it
The pain, the joy
The love received and love lost…
I believe it’s all worth it.

I believe everyone has a great struggle
And we need to remember this when we hate, or feel jealously, or judge.
We may not see it, or know it, or feel it
But a struggle is within all of us.

I believe you can’t spend too much time in worry and fear.
You must be a rock
You must shelter the storm with your resolve.

Anticipate the sunrise - Be steady, be still.

I believe you must have hope
Without it, there is nothing.
Material things slip from our fingers
People come and go,
but hope is eternal

I believe inner peace is possible.
You just have to want it bad enough.
Accept nothing less from yourself.

This I believe.