This morning the sun hasn’t quite found its way to my horizon – in either the figurative or literal sense. It isn’t still dark, or without sunlight. But it isn’t a sunny day. Because all above me are thick clouds – at least from this window.
And isn’t that how life goes? If you only have one window through which to view the world, you may never see the sunny side of the sky.
Of course, this isn’t a meteorological blog post, although it could be. It’s also how as a body ages, that body increases its ability to see everything as variations of gray instead of black and white.
There’s been a lot of bad news in my life lately. But, of course, there’s bad news and then there’s B.A.D. news. And both have found their way into my window lately. So, I’ve been wallowing in gray days, punctuated with lighter grays and darker grays. As always, its about perspective and how my heart feels about things.
A few days ago, I got some news that really shook me. (Actually, more than one batch of news came my way, but I’m just going to focus on one thing right now.) It isn’t new news actually, but it is new to me.
In 2009 a young man died. I’m sure that his death was as painful as most deaths caused by warfare. And then, last August, another young man died. Another warfare death. And all these years later, I’m thinking of that young man and his friend.
In my old incarnation as a high school English teacher, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds and hundreds of teens. Some were destined to take their places with the powerful and history changers. Some were the kind of bright souls that teachers and youth ministers and employers of teens know are going to have bright futures in places we read about or dream about. But many of those teens were kids whom I hoped would have nice, ordinary lives. The kind where the garbage gets taken to the curb on Wednesday nights, the tv plays a favorite show every week, and spaghetti is a simple comfort food.
All of those kids, regardless of how “bright” or motivated they were, I hoped would grow up and be happy enough.
Because that’s what life is really about – finding a way to be happy enough to enjoy life as it is rather than be tormented by what it is not.
The truth is, not all kids are able to grow up and find their way to being happy enough. It’s as if there is an emptiness that can’t be filled. And that’s a very dark place to be – searching for something to fill an emptiness that seems absolute. I think this comes from looking at life in rigid black and white terms – of looking at life in terms of absolutes. It is too easy to get caught in this way of thinking. It often starts simply by thinking that once a certain thing is achieved, then something better will happen. But when all a body’s happiness lies in achieving things that may not be within that body’s reach, then how will that body be happy? How will that body find its way to enough?
The mother of my former student said in an interview that she believed her son and his friend were searching for ways to be important.
But he was important. He was important to me. I remember that smile. I remember how he was quiet and polite, how he always called me “Mizzes” and seemed happy to be in class. Back then, I was caught in the black and white of “passing” “failing” “okay” “not-okay” which is what happens when the magical dance of teaching and learning is compressed into nothing more than numbers on tests. But his truth, and the truth of every student I taught, was not a black and white tallying of information. Instead, it was a portrait made of shades of gray – gray days spent searching for ways to be important.
Troy Kastigar, I hope I made you feel important at least a few times. Because you are still important to me, regardless of the choices you made as you left your youth and entered you adulthood. You were one of my kids, and important in one of the best ways: I still remember your smile when I asked you to read. I still remember how you joked with your friends. I still remember how you entered my classroom. I still remember hoping you’d find your way to be happy with carrying out the garbage, watching some tv before bed, and the taste of a bowl of spaghetti on a winter night.
I remember you, not in black and white, but in all the shades of gray that were your life. You were more important than you thought.