Friday, December 23, 2016

11:23 pm

I went to bed a little later than usual, yet I was sound asleep at 11:23 pm when the house phone rang.  Yes, we do still have a house phone - it's primary job is that it provides a place for telemarketers to call and us to completely ignore, simultaneously feeling victory and disgust over the annoyance of the ring.  But telemarketers don't call after 9 pm, and every sleeping parent knows that a ringing phone at 11:23 pm is not a good thing.

It was a former student, now a freshman in college, sobbing and screaming so uncontrollably that it took me a very short time to be truly awake and a very long time to grasp what had happened.  Social media was ablaze with posts about a young man who had allegedly chosen to end his life. (Update:  This has not been confirmed, and the death is being investigated.)  My caller was desperately seeking answers, replaying in her mind how she might have changed this terrible course, repeatedly and despondently asking me how she could have made a difference that would have alternately affected the outcome.  

Teachers are grown ups.  And the one lesson that we probably should teach a little more explicitly is that grown ups don't have all the answers, especially when trying to understand or explain the behaviors and choices of teenagers.  The statistics are horrifying:  suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, yet that number rises significantly for young people.  Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for our young people in high school and college.  To someone who had turned the lights off on the Christmas tree a little more than an hour ago, the idea that someone had chosen to end his life at this particular time of year was especially gut-wrenching.  I was devastated, and I don't know this young man, except as a bright eyed kid with an infectious smile in the hallway with his friends.

Today is the last day of school before break, and is usually a day
full of laughter, good cheer, and the sharing and witnessing of the amazing skills of many students at the annual Talent Show. While the show will still go on, I assume, there will definitely be tears and confusion over what could have been done to change a very personal decision made by one young man.  My heart aches for his mother, and I already dread the meeting before school this morning with the faculty where I will see his teachers asking themselves the same questions that Brittany asked me last night, as they choke back tears of grief.

I also know that today will be a day of caring, support, and love for each other, because that's what Donegal does.  I know that this Talent Show, regardless of what the acts are, or who is performing, or whether there are flaws in the performances,  will be viewed by an audience that traditionally demonstrates superhuman skills in compassion - cheering wildly for the successes of the individuals on stage.   The annual Talent Show is always a place of support and acceptance, and I tear up every year that I am able to work at such a unique place in a world that often seems to lack kindness

Before midnight last night, the Student Council was already talking about ways to remember their lost classmate, and celebrate his short life. In January, the attendance at the Aevaidum Club will probably increase dramatically, as the realization that everyone needs someone to "have their back" has hit uncomfortably close to home.

I have tremendous hope in the kids who are asking "why" today, and know that from this horrible tragedy will come conversations, consolations, and an even greater compassion for each other, and the strength to move forward, together, in a world that sometimes seems like more than one can bear.  
The whisper of "You are not alone" will become a louder voice in my world.  Please call someone if you need to talk.  They'll have your back.
Even if it is 11:23 pm.