Saturday, April 25, 2015
Prayers for Peace
Only a fool presumes to know what demons stalk any given individual. This week we pray for stupid frat boys, yet again, to cease and desist from being stupid! We pray fervently for veterans who have defended the flag of our country, and yet we seek to understand protesters who see that flag as a symbol of oppression. We pray for lawmakers and judges and so many others who hold within their hands the fates of so many who need a hand up rather than a smack down, a hug rather than a kick in the shin, or higher. Normally I would be ranting on these things, waving my tattered liberal flag and asking how long, Oh Lord, will hate triumph over love. But this post is more personal...much more personal. It is about life and death. I have walked the razor's edge...still walk it. This week I am reminded in a powerful, tragic way, why I must continue to walk, to live.
Today, as the cold rain falls across Ohio, I mourn for a man I never knew...a farmer from a long line of farmers up here in the Heartland. He died two weeks ago, leaving behind children and grandchildren, one of whom is my student most dear. I just learned that he died by his own hand, for his own reasons, or lack of reason. And so I pray for his soul, that what survives of him in the great unknown will come to terms with whatever haunted the man and will move onward and upward. As for his granddaughter, my heart is breaking on her behalf.
All teachers at one time or another joke about the death toll papers and exams seem to inflict on students' extended families. True enough...death comes in its own time, and has no respect for coursework or exam schedules. I quit joking about it a long time ago. I've seen it happen too often, and I mean I personally know too many people who lost loved ones at "inconvenient" moments to joke. One year I celebrated graduation with a young lady who had lost her mother a month earlier to a car wreck. I once gave an exam to a group of students, many of whom did not know that one of their number was absent because she was in the morgue. In short, I would rather have a dozen students lie or exaggerate about their loss and grief than risk ignoring or punishing one truly-grief-stricken person.
I take this position from hard personal experience. I know what it was like to lose my grandfathers. It was the year I turned 16. Teachers, mentors, friends, family all seemed to think that I just needed to move on. I couldn't, for a variety of reasons. In some ways I still grieve for the losses of that year...indeed I do. As many of you know, the ghosts of 1975 still haunt me...probably always will. So I do not joke about dead grandmothers and grandfathers, anymore than I would joke about my wife's ongoing struggle with the feeling of absence in her life due to the passing of her mother many years ago. I of course feel that absence, too, both the loss of hers and, later, my own.
Surely all of us have lost loved ones and struggled with grief. Most of us have been touched by the tragic hand of suicide in some way or another. Contrary to the famous MASH song, suicide is never painless, even if it brings many changes. I see the pain in my dear student's eyes...the tearstains, the loss, the hurt, the anger, all welling up. Her life wasn't exactly all hugs and puppies, anyway, and suddenly this gaping hole has been ripped...one man's decision, for his own reasons, or lack of reason, and a family shattered. It will take time for her to pull together the ripped fabric. She has that time, for my part...I know grief is personal, and each person has his or her own timetable for each instance. So I simply pray for peace...and for understanding. Sometimes the grandparent really does die, and the student's life really is shattered. I have walked that hellish path, in my own way...I know it can be walked...must be walked, but I cannot give someone else a time limit for walking it.