I’ve said it before (though maybe not in these exact words): 8th grade offers a higher concentration of social confusion, awkwardness and all-around nasty crap than any other year known to humanity. And that’s on its own. It doesn’t need tragedy to make it more challenging.
Today the children at Claudia’s middle school learned that one of their classmates has died. I don’t know anything about the young man or how he died, but my heart aches for his family.
For many of the kids at that school, I’m sure this was their first experience with death. For most of them I’m sure this was their first experience with the death of a peer. And since, as an alleged adult, I’m struggling with categorizing and labeling my own thoughts and feelings on this subject, I imagine that in the hormone-steeped, drama-fueled brains of many of those 13-year-olds, this must be a complete freakout.
Claudia didn’t know this young man very well, but watching other people’s reactions and trying to sort through her own reactions was kind of freaking her out. Not catatonic. Not medication-worthy. Just a little freaked out. So after talking with Corinne and with one of the counselors on site, we decided to let her go home and spend some time processing.
No big deal – just run-of-the-mill 8th-grade drama. And, if Claudia really had just clinically seized on a chance to go home and watch The View, I would see her friend’s point. But it got me wondering about the thoughts that must be going through these kids’ heads. And if a friend called me out on that, what would I say? After all, she’s right – Claudia barely even knew the kid.
In fact, I think that’s the point I would keep coming back to…
(Commence dream sequence.)
I barely even knew the kid. And now I never will. I don’t think I ever said more than “hey” in the hall to him – and only half a dozen times at that. What if he had this insanely random sense of humor that no one gets … just like mine? Or what if it turns out he was not only super-smart in math but also happened to have just the right combination of words that would have helped me see the solution to that stupid word problem from yesterday’s assignment?
What if we were supposed to have a class together next year at the high school and start talking and turn out to be best friends? What if that’s the way it was supposed to happen and it didn’t and now it never will? What if he was the one person in the world that I could have told all the crazy things in my head to who would have understood what I was talking about and who wouldn’t judge me about any of it? If he was that one person and he’s gone, does that mean I’m stuck with all this stuff in my head for the rest of my life?
Or what if whatever it was that he was supposed to be had nothing to do with me – but he was supposed to cure cancer or run for President or something? And now he never will. I didn’t know him enough to know WHAT his potential was. But whatever it was, it’s for sure going unfulfilled now.
And what about this “death” thing? There were crying kids at school this morning, whining about “why him”? And, yeah, I want to know that answer. But, to be perfectly honest, half the reason I want to know “why him” is so I can figure out the answer to the real questions that are bugging me: “Why not me? Am I next? Could I be?”
(End dream sequence.)
That would be enough to freak me out a little bit. And if I had the chance, I’d probably opt for taking a couple of hours to go home and spend some time processing. And if any of my friends called me on it, that’s what I would try to explain.
Death sometimes casts an alluring veil of celebrity over its younger victims. And to many a lonely, quiet, misunderstood teen, watching today’s outpouring of tears and reverent respect and affection has to look strangely attractive. Fortunately, thank God, I haven’t sensed any of that in Claudia. I think (and I pray) that she’s aware enough to know that there are people right here, right now who love her. And I think she understands enough about death’s finality to know that it’s a pointless waste of potential and possibility. Sometimes I speculate that her head’s screwed on cockeyed. But I’m so glad that it’s a good head and it’s sitting firmly on her shoulders. I pray as much for the rest of the students at that school over these next few days.