Usually, I alternate my Saturday blogs strictly between the topics of autism and parenting.
But this has been a week like no other here in our nation’s history. And it’s been a week that I suspect has been especially tough for those in their teens and twenties.
On Monday morning, a 13 year old student was found bludgeoned to death by an axe-wielding 16 year old in a school toilet. It’s never happened before.
On Tuesday, our country announced a return to semi-lockdown from Thursday, after a spike in Covid cases. This came fast on the heels of us reaching the enviable target of a 50% vaccinated population on the same day.
On Thursday just before noon, police were called to another school where a 15 year old boy fell four stories.
So, I feel compelled by these unfortunate incidents to write something different today.
Not to add to the language of anguish flooding many a conversation now, but to go after the language of healing instead.
And to write it first as a teacher and colleague; then a parent; and finally a friend.
To everyone affected.
A teacher, and a colleague
Since I started teaching in 2003, I’ve always believed the school should be the second safest place in the world (after the home). For all teachers and learners, especially the young ones.
No doubt some would argue I’m making a huge assumption here, given the state of the world we now live in.
Yes, it is often an unsafe and imperfect world, with our fair share of unsafe and imperfect schools and homes.
And it often gets worse, especially when you step out of the protective perimeters of the school and home, to venture into the wild wild west of the working world. Those still schooling, but who have done vacation jobs or internships, would also know what I mean.
Be that as it may, I still strive to make every classroom I step into (physical or virtual) a safe space for learning.
I plan the lesson carefully beforehand. I prepare the necessary materials to keep things humming during class. I do whatever I can think of to avoid ambiguities, and ensure students know what tasks to complete during and between lessons.
I try always to begin with the end in mind: that my charges will step out of this safe space equipped with new learning under their belt, and step safely into a world of hope and possibilities.
It’s what teachers the world over do, every single day in school.
So when tragedies of the kind that happened here this past week make headlines, it sends a chill down my spine like no other.
And my heart breaks for all the students and teachers, starting with those in the aforementioned two schools, but extending also to everywhere else students and teachers are found.
I desperately want to reassure my charges and colleagues that the school is still a safe space to learn and teach.
I desperately want to erase the voices of fear, doubt, guilt and self-blame that must now be making their sick and merry rounds in the heads of those closest to the scenes.
I desperately want to replace those with the voices of calm, reassurance and hope. Hope that can’t change the past, but that will lead us as learners and educators into a future that’s still bright; still full of possibilities for growth and development.
So students and teachers everywhere, please step back again boldly into your school with confidence and hope okay?
The school is still a safe space for us.
We must believe it, for then we can become it.
A parent, alongside every parent
This has to be the hardest place to write from.
Words fail me miserably as I try to put myself in the shoes of the victims’ parents. Those three families of those three boys. What they are going through right now. What they will go through in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
There are no words. Only tears. And an immeasurable sense of loss.
I can only cry with you as a fellow parent, while I look now at my own kids with a mixture of gratitude and trembling. Neither comfortable with the other, but no longer able to ignore each other.
For this is the lot we sign up for the day we became parents. That both good and bad things can happen to our precious babies. That we will always stand at the intersection between gain and loss. Love and hate. Hope and despair. Gratitude and trembling.
And so to the parents affected, I stand with you this week. I stand with you every week until kingdom comes.
You are not alone.
A friend, to the young everywhere
And finally, I want to write to young people everywhere as a friend.
For the longest time, I’ve worn the hat of the “superior adult”. I’ve pooh-poohed at all the shenanigans you get into; laughed at your awkward gangly gait as you nervously navigate the world on two uncertain feet; and mocked you for your obvious weaknesses as you butt heads against me and other “know-it-all” adults like me.
I am sorry.
For all those times I’ve rolled my eyes and wondered why young people today seem to make mountains out of molehills; behaving like snowflakes and strawberries.
For all those times I’ve made light of what matters to you, just because I think I’ve been there before and I survived so why can’t you?
For all those times I’ve ignored your cries for help because I didn’t think there’s such a thing as mental well-being; only resilience and fortitude.
I am sorry.
I could have been a better friend to you then, when you most needed a listening ear and tight hugs.
When you most needed a friend.
So to all young people who are again feeling like someone’s just pulled the rug from under you, especially this week, please don’t give up hope!
From where you stand, this worrying world we now live in may look like it’s gone mad. But don’t let it stop you from being who you were meant to be: a beautiful and unique individual created by God for just this very moment in history.
You have a purpose for being right here right now; even if it doesn’t appear that way at the moment.
And right here right now, I want nothing more than to be your friend as you journey this life bewildered but hopeful.
Together, we can make this world safe and beautiful again.
Let’s do this shall we? Let’s live each day on God’s green earth like it’s the best.
Because with hope, and a friend, it can be.