An open letter from a grieving teacher:

I lost two students this year. Both unique tragedies but with similar devastation. Two early phone calls, two sets of handouts on “the symptoms of shock”, and two new seating charts to camouflage the gaping vacuum where they once were. (The past tense here is again a sudden, crushing reality; our language demands the constant, truthful state of existence. Words contort themselves to distinguish what is from what was and what will never be.) The light of whole lives snuffed instantly and irrevocably. Suddenly, they were. 

I often wonder, a bit jealously, if my friends care as much about their cubicle-bound coworkers. They seem blissfully insulated from breakups and divorces, college applications and lunch club disputes: the gore of everyday teenage life. I don’t have the luxury of keeping my hands clean. But I got into this profession to foster potential, not to watch growing sprouts get yanked from the soil. I weep in my garden overrun with the weeds and rocks of this collective trauma. I’m angry and sad. Mostly, I’m sorry.

It’s impossible not to feel the burden of responsibility. In some small way, I could have been more. In the shuffle of papers and bell schedules and homework assignments, I lost them and a million moments I’ll never get back. 

I wish my students knew I felt like an imposter too. That most adults do and the feeling never really goes away. I wish my students knew that for every brave face I show in class, tears of uncertainty break loose on the drive home. I wish my students knew that this whole thing was bigger than grades or even college. That we are here together today and we may never be again.

I want to be better for you – to recommit to the joy and enthusiasm I let pandemic stress corrode. I hope you learn and thrive and make diamonds out of the pebbles and immense pressure you’ve been under these last two years. Together we can mourn the wilted carnage of what was supposed to bloom. Together we can extend our roots down in the primordial defiance of life. This reality is temporal and terrifyingly beautiful but today we are unbound from the past tense. 

Today we are.