In the Mourning & my hope for the future

*names are redacted as I doubt this will go anywhere beyond my friend group but it has the ability to do so.*

The day I started teaching I was bright eyed. Tonight I sit here blurry eyed with tears.

It’s officially past midnight making it the 20th. It’s officially been a month.

A month ago, at 7:11 pm, I read a message that made me sick to my stomach. Even right now it makes my breath stop in my chest.

Less than 12 hours ago, coming home from errands today, I was driving home and was stopped there. And I paused my audiobook and just sat there and wondered why.

It was on my mind a lot in the last 24 hours. I saw a boy (I’m sorry I say boy I know you were technically a young man, but you were one of my babies) that reminded me of you. His body language reminded me of the way you held yourself in my classroom and the countless times I passed you in the hallway.

I walked into a shoe store and pretended to look. One of the clerks tried to make eye contact and I watched them read the look on my face then walk away.

I kicked myself for the fact that a little over 3 weeks ago, I stood next to your casket and choked through half of the words I wrote about you. I didn’t make it through before I sat down. And I still feel like I owe you more than that.

These are the words I had written down, if it’s okay for me to tell you now:

From the first day that students enter my classroom, I welcome them with the fact that they are now my “kids.” I taught J* his junior year. His class was something special They were the first time I watched my students truly embrace the concept of family in the classroom. It was a privilege to watch J grow as a student and young man in the time I had him. [I added somewhere in here, something along the lines of that the day of that so many of your classmates were there and that showed me that class’ community]

I’ve reflected over the last week on memories of that semester, particularly those of J. And I have three things that come to my mind and stick with me. The first are his headphones. Every day he bopped to whatever song was playing while he took his notes. But ever so respectfully, he would move one side away from his ear to listen when I was speaking, I took this as his desire to learn.

The second thing that sticks in my mind is his smile and laugh. There was a lot of laughter in his class. They had fun while they learned and J was always friendly with his classmates. I did not know him to have conflict with any of them. He had a life skill that many of us could use to just be friendly and relaxed. He loved well and I think that has really been shown over the last week.

Lastly his determination. I saw this in a few aspects of his life, through the bonds he formed and fought for, through his work in my classroom, but also one of my favorite memories, of his unique ability to sleep through a noisy classroom watching a movie after an exam, and he had three desks pushed together because he was determined he was taking a nap.

The last week has been hard. I see it on your faces today. I see it in the posts online where I’ve read countless memories and the love you had for this sweet boy. I feel it myself.

As we collectively struggle to find peace in these moments of grief- I truly believe that you should rest in the idea that while he is not physically here, he is looking down on you, bopping along to the song playing through his beats, and smiling. And when we see him in the after life, he’ll pull his headphones to the side and greet us with that warm friendship we will all remember him for. Until that day, I think we’re called to live the friendship he showed so many of you, because I think that’s what he would want. It was and is an honor to have had him as one of mine, thank you, Miss R, for letting me love yours like one of my own for the brief time I had him, that will never leave me.”

 

If I were to be honest, today the thought crossed my mind that as a teacher I’ve failed my kids. I’ve lost two of them. Each time someone my age has passed since I graduated high school 8 years ago, I haven’t understood, and I’ve always felt like it happens too frequently, because we’ve lost too many people that walked my high school halls with me. I’ve never wanted that to be the feeling that my “kids” experienced. The fact that two of “mine” have been lost makes me feel like somehow I didn’t protect them enough.

It makes me feel like I didn’t give enough Friday lectures.

It makes me feel like I didn’t hug them enough.

It makes me feel like I didn’t remind them enough to be safe because they were so valued and they mean(t) so much to their classmates, their families, me.

It makes me feel like I didn’t literally say the words “you are valued. You are loved. You are so important. You are enough,” to them enough.

If you’re one of mine, and I didn’t say it enough, I’m so sorry. Please accept this as my way of telling you now and I hope you’ll hear it in your heart and mind every day.

I never imagined losing one of you. I never wanted to. I’m sorry I did. Im sorry I was afraid to go to the first funeral. I’m sorry my words standing at the second fell so short.

I hope each of the rest of the 600+ of you outlives me by so many years and makes the most of the days you have ahead. I hope you make everyone around you proud. I hope you remember that life is short and use that as a lesson to remain safe and to also honor those that you’ve lost along the way, because it will and should shape you. I hope that even on the hard days that you realize how absolutely loved and needed you are…and if you ever need to be reminded and don’t feel like you have somewhere else to go, please come to me because I’ll remind you, and be longwinded, emotional, well-meaning, and most likely cliched about it.

Xoxo, Freeman

“In the Mourning” of yet another high school shooting

Let me begin this post with a few disclaimers. First, I am a high school teacher, but I am not sitting with my students right now, I am home sick, and I will touch later on the fact of how this has broken me this week. Secondly, I am a registered Republican, but according to a few of my friends, I am an extremely “liberal Republican.” Thirdly, this post will not be eloquent by any means, because I am writing with pure emotion, and my heart is broken today. But if you’re sticking with me so far, let’s go.

Today children who are the age of the students I teach are being prepared by a funeral home to be buried. Today teachers, just like me, are being prepared for their funeral and burial. If the news was right, some of the funerals begin today. Not only are these people just like the people I see daily being buried, their families just like my family are mourning them, their work family who are just like my work family is mourning them, these students who are just like my students are mourning them and wondering how they will ever move on with their lives.

I did something I rarely do today, I sat down my cup of coffee, and if you know me my morning cup of coffee is important….I sat down my cup of coffee, so I could cry. I watched two young ladies stand on camera and BEG for their to be change in this country. One said she could not shower, use the bathroom, or sleep alone because she is so distraught in the aftermath of seeing her fellow classmates and teachers gunned down.

Then, mere moments later, the same news outlet silently scrolled the pictures of the victims. There was another thing I wasn’t used to….silence. My coffee cup remained on a coaster, and I wailed into my grandfather’s rocking chair at the lives lost and the hearts broken as a result. The silence, that I so often claim I want, was deafening. It physically hurt me to cry, yet I could not stop. My heart was broken for each of these lives lost, and the people they left behind.

So somebody somewhere is asking in their head: If you’re such a great teacher and you care so much, why are you not at school today?

Great question, somebody somewhere, let me explain. If you are new to this blog or don’t pay attention, I have a chronic pain disorder and an autoimmune disease. On Wednesday, I had more medical testing done to try to diagnose some irksome symptoms I have been having for over two months. I had taken yesterday off to recover, and unfortunately my body is not recovering at the pace I would like it to, so here I am stuck at home for another day. (yes, I’ve cried about that too). It has been hard being away from my kids for three days. It breaks me to know that I just want to hug all of them in the aftermath of this news, and I won’t be able to until next week. So, doing what I could I left them a message on Google Classroom, where they should be doing their work, so I can see it from home. The message read like this:

In light of everything that has happened nationally this week, I just want to remind you, you are each cared about. I am so thankful to teach each and every one of you. All of you have things in you that make you special, and you all have a bright future ahead of you. Strive to achieve those dreams. Be safe over your long weekend. Can’t wait to see you all on Tuesday!

My kids know that every Friday I give what we call the “Friday lecture.” I urge them to make smart choices, and we go through the places I don’t want to visit them: the hospital, jail, or the funeral home. It breaks my heart that today there are students and teachers visiting two of those three places as a result of this tragedy. I have buried one student in my teaching career, and it made me unbelievably sad, so I cannot imagine burying 14, nor do I want to think about it. Burying one still hurts my heart. This week actually marked the one year anniversary and I cried about that, mere hours before the news broke that 14 students had been gunned down when they were trying to head home for the day.

THIS SHOULD NOT BE THE NEW NORMAL FOR OUR CHILDREN. Our children should not have to practice drills to know what to do if someone is trying to murder them while they are at school where they should be safe. Now, does my school do it? yes. Do I hate it? Also yes. I joke with my kids if I look out in the hallway and it’s clear we’re making a run for it. Yet, I also know in my inmost being I would do everything in my power to shelter them in place and fight an armed assailant off and if it meant risking my life I would give my life for theirs.

As I typed that statement, my selfish 20something inside me was like “oh no girl.” I am 24. I am not married. I have no biological children. I am in grad school. I have student loan debt to pay off. I have some awesome best friends. and I have four fur babies that I love to death. And I have a man in my life, whom I would love to marry. But would I stand in front of my children and block them from death, even if it meant that my own life would be cut short? Yes. I tell them from the get go that I prayed over who would end up in my classroom and that I don’t have biological children, so they now have become my children. Once mine, always mine. At the age of 24, I have over 400 children who have come through my classroom and they are all MY CHILDREN. I wish that the adults of this country would realize the responsibility we have to protect these children. My 400 are also your children, they are the future, and they are awesome, and they don’t deserve to be gunned down in their prime.

Oh god, Logan, didn’t you say that you’re a registered Republican? Yes. I registered as a Republican when I turned 18. I am extremely fiscally conservative, yet I am extremely socially liberal. But even registered as a Republican, I realize that something is wrong. There is something wrong when my children have to fear being at school. There is something wrong when someone who has been flagged by the FBI then LEGALLY owns an assault weapon and guns down 17 people and almost makes an escape.

We need gun control. We also need mental health reform. We also need to teach our children AND ADULTS to love and be kind.

The young man who has been arraigned and who is sitting in jail with no bond, because he slayed 17 people, is a young person. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE. He is the age that I would have taught my first year after graduating college.

I have worked in a day homeless shelter. I have a parent who works in the government’s social service field. I have seen those who are flagged “mentally ill.” Mentally ill is not a label that means that you wake up one day and decide to gun down 17 innocent people. In fact, one of my favorite people in the world is “mentally ill” and that person is known to hug me and sing me a song when they see me…    Yes we need mental health reform and perhaps that should be part of the conversation but that does not need to be the whole conversation. We cannot leave gun violence and gun control out of this conversation. If you want to say that the assailant (I refuse to speak his name and make him famous) did this because he was mentally ill then why are you not acknowledging the fact that our government’s gun laws allowed him to legally buy the weapon even though he is quote “mentally ill” and there’s an issue there.

This conversation needs to be had by both sides of the aisle without a government shutdown. Yes, we need mental health reform. yes, we need stricter gun control laws. Yes, we need to teach love more often. Yes, my kids did grow up in a generation where they were given a participation trophy, but that doesn’t mean that they grow up to be violent. Yes, we need to take time to mourn. But finally yes, this is the time for the conversation to be had.

As a reporter said this morning, we mourn the 17 lives lost, but we also need to acknowledge the survivors, they are the ones who are going to make the change.

I believe in this generation. I believe they are going to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe they are just as tired of mourning those we lose, and nothing be done about it.