Last week I argued with one of my students about 1984 and it’s ability to be entertaining. The student thought the book was extremely boring. Like, “Ms. WHY did you choose this book?” boring. “I read three pages and fell asleep,” boring. We had only made it to the end of part one, and I knew there was still so much for him to encounter in the read so I told him that it was because the beginning was typically full of exposition, the part that most people found more boring than the rest of the book, in any book, because it hadn’t gotten to the rising action, the climax. But soon, very soon in fact, he’d enjoy the read much more. In my nearll 10 years of teaching this is something I’ve encountered over and over again. They fight me about something only to praise the author two weeks later. I knew that this young man would take to 1984 in no time. Complain all you want, kid.
But, he died two days later in a car accident.
I had repeatedly chastised him about not completing his work, about chewing gum in class, about not wearing his headphones in school.
All of that seems so unimportant now.
He’s the third student we have lost from our school in a ten month period, and for the same reason: Automobile accident, no seatbelts.
It is difficult losing a student, no matter how close you are. You go through attendance and your eyes linger on the letters that spell out a name that will never again respond to you. You come across a paper you need to grade and realize whose it is and you can’t put it down and move on to the next in the pile. You stare at an empty desk at the beginning and end of the day, knowing exactly how that kid sat, what they’d have on their desk, how they looked at you as you spoke to them. And you feel guilty for any stress you caused them in what you now know was a short life. Guilty for having outlived them.
The snuffing out of potential before it gets to manifest itself is a loss you feel not just for the deceased, but also for their family and peers. You hurt for your students when you see them in pain. Parent or not, that maternal/paternal instinct that you have gives you some infinitesimal ability to feel for the parents, though no one who has never experienced it may understand the pain of losing a child.
I wanted so hard for him to enjoy the book. I knew that if he kept with it 1984 could end up being one of his favorite reads, or maybe something else we’d read this year. But he only got through part one of our first novel. And though I know his life was filled with friends and family that loved him, achievements and fun and happiness, I just can’t help but feel that the reading mirrors his own life:
He didn’t even get to the good part.