A student at my school died last night.
To be specific, she was a student of mine.
I can’t say I knew her particularly well, but I knew her well enough for the tragedy of a young person’s death to be bigger than that; this was the death of somebody who I taught, whose presence in my class I enjoyed and appreciated, who lifted up the students around her with her energy and enthusiasm.
This was a girl who had plans for college, who worked two jobs in addition to attending school, who found a way to be a positive influence in a setting where it is so much easier and commoner to be negative.
Since I teach her, there was a parade of teachers through my classroom today offering sympathy and prayers. (And I won’t begrudge people their prayers in a time like this.) But one of them said something that gave me pause.
She said, “the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes.”
And I found myself unable to agree with that. Quite the contrary, the world makes perfect sense. It just doesn’t always operate in a way that we approve of or enjoy.
The loss of any life is tragic to somebody. The loss of a child is tragic to a community. Tragic or not, these things happen all around us, all across the country, all over the world. It is the absence of these tragedies from our immediate lives that blinds us to them. The world carries on in much the same way every day, but because we don’t endure a tragedy this day, we feel like the world makes sense (of a sort).
But when it strikes close to home, suddenly the world ceases to make sense?
No. The world operates as it always has, but on this day, my community, my school, my classroom, has been visited by a tragedy. But it is still normal. It is still commonplace. Death, even the death of somebody young and undeserving, is a part of life.
It’s sad. It’s a shame. The loss of potential is devastating. Who knows what she might have been?
One of the novels I teach is Night, by Elie Wiesel. And no matter what we do, no matter how many videos or pictures we show the students, I never really feel that they get it. It’s impossible to describe the loss of life on such a scale to somebody so young. Six million deaths is too much to process, like the size of the universe, or even the fact that light takes eight minutes to reach our tiny blue sphere from the sun.
But a single life, plucked from their very ranks and extinguished? Taking with it all her hopes and dreams? All her happiness and vitality and struggles and pain?
I fear they will understand that all too well.
I sat in the room with them today, while grief counselors filed through and while students walked the halls with tissues pressed to their faces to the sound of the shuffling of feet and the snuffling of noses. And I saw them looking for answers. Looking for meaning. And while I’ve always had a healthy dose of self-doubt as a teacher, I felt for the first time completely inadequate. And yet, we must find a way to offer these students guidance. We must find ways to encourage them to seek meaning, to pursue their potential, to affect the world in whatever way they are able.
It’s times like these that I understand why people turn to God for answers. But the truth is, the answers that we want to think come from God, really only come from within ourselves.
The world is what it is. Whether it makes sense to us or not, whether we like what we see in it or not.
Today the world is poorer by one, and maybe that’s not a big deal. But the world of my community is poorer by one, and that’s a big deal indeed.