1: After the Silence

1: After the Silence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

After the Silence

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.

~Helen Keller

First, there is the cacophony of noise and action. The Facebook posts, ambiguous requests for prayer with no details.

Then the texts and personal Facebook messages: “Did you hear?” “Is it true?” “Do you know?” “Is it her?” “Was he with them?” Then the confirmations. The phone calls. The breaking of the news to friends. The gasps, the cries, the denial.

Then the planning: “Will we do this?” “Should we do that?” “What would be best?” “When is it?” “Vigil tomorrow night?” “Counselors at school on Monday?” “Calling hours Wednesday for all three of them?”

And then comes the silence. The phone stops buzzing; the texts stop coming. Everyone knows. And there is nothing to say.

And there I was, in the shower, trying to wash it all away. My quiet tears started falling, and suddenly I jumped at a scream, a keening sound that came from deep within me. “NOT MY KIDS!” Please God, no.

But it was my kids. Three beautiful, vibrant, funny kids. A junior in my class this year, a quiet and gorgeous blonde who loved pink. A senior boy who had been in my class last year, the star of the football team, a boy I had seen out playing pool with his friends a few weeks ago on a Friday night to celebrate his nineteenth birthday. And a girl who was a student in my class a few years ago, who was loving her first year of college at West Virginia University where she was the women’s basketball team manager. Gone in a tragic car accident less than a mile from my house, their car sliding into a school bus traveling in the opposite direction.

The ice storm had hit in an instant. The roads had turned from wet to ice in no time. It was no one’s fault. It was just a regular Saturday morning in November, but it was one that changed everything in our town forever.

The silence persisted. The next night, a vigil was held. Our school gym had never been entered so quietly, and it was packed. There was the sniffling, the quiet tears of disbelief. After the speaker finished, he told us we could stay as long as we wanted.

The formal part of the night was over, but no one moved. No one spoke. We all just sat there, tightly squeezed together in the gym where Storm had played basketball, where A’liyah had walked across the floor at the Promenade, where Savannah had sat with her friends for pep rallies.

The superintendent reiterated that we were free to go when we wanted, but we sat still, not moving, not talking. Not wanting to break free of the comfort of shared pain and strength.

Finally, some of the kids stood up and started hugging each other. Maybe kids are wiser than we give them credit for. The gym floor was soon filled with adults and kids, crying and hugging one another.

One of my freshman students walked up to people and said, “You don’t know me. I’m Morgan. Let’s hug.” I saw her do that at least three times. Several of my older students sobbed in my arms and asked, “Why?” I sobbed, too. “I don’t know,” I said.

Teachers are used to having the answers. They expect to have some wisdom to impart, whether it’s about how to pass a standardized test, write a college application essay, or get over your first broken heart. But this? There were no answers.

The silence was back on Monday. Have you ever heard kids go to their lockers and then to first period in complete silence? When the bell rang for class to start, they stared at me, silently, expectantly. “Fix this,” they seemed to be saying. “Make sense of this for us,” they silently begged. I couldn’t. Instead, I opened my mouth to speak… and lost my composure. I cried. I said I didn’t know what to do. Or how to move forward. In the end, we decided on hugs.

Today was better. We pretended to care a little about what school is about and did some lessons. One girl left in the middle of class. I sat on the floor outside my room with her, and we cried for a few minutes. In fifth period, a boy passed gas, loudly, near another boy who was on the floor watching Tuesdays with Morrie with him. They laughed and ended up rolling around on the floor, half-hugging and half-wrestling with each other.

I turned away to hide my tears. These are teenagers. They should only be full of laughter. The laughter should not have to make room for grief and pain. They shouldn’t have to go to calling hours tomorrow night for three of their friends. There should not be three coffins in a school gym and a long snaking line that consists of an entire town of mourning people waiting to pay their respects.

I don’t know if the calling hours tomorrow night will be silent. But I know that silence visits when there is nothing to say. And sometimes, there are just no words. Only heartbreak and unity. But after that? Then comes the healing.

~Julie Rine

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