When Words Fail

I didn’t check my school email over Christmas break, so I missed the funeral.

We weren’t even particularly close. But we had one memorable interaction about a month ago that made me pay close attention to him whenever he was in my room.
*he’s goofing off in class, and I pull him aside*
Me: Hey ____! This is so unlike you! What’s going on?
Him: My dad got really mad at me this morning because he said I didn’t do the laundry and dishes like I was supposed to.
Me: Oh, I can see how that would throw you off. Did you do the laundry and dishes?
Him: Yeah! I always do! And he never notices!
Me: Oh man. That must be hard. Does your mom ever stick up for you?
Him: She’s dead.

So I knew like a tiny bit about his life. (AKA I knew that home life kind of sucked.) I think I tried to be extra aware of him and praise him a lot. Maybe.

The email said he was on life support due to a gunshot wound. The next email said he didn’t make it.

One time I passed him in the hall. I was on my way to pick up a class and idk what he was doing by himself. I should’ve stopped to talk to him. I think I said hi. Maybe I called him by name. I’m bad with names. Maybe I called him the wrong name. I could’ve invited him to walk with me. Maybe he’d just been bullied at recess. I should’ve asked him how his day was going.

I hate guns. [Lengthy paragraph about my political views that I just deleted. #prolife #protectthechildrenthatarealreadyonthisearth]

I get his class on Thursday. I’m not really good at knowing the right thing to say to grieving people. I feel like I always say the wrong thing. But when those kiddos come in on Thursday, I might not say anything. I think we’ll just listen to calming music and play the piano.

When I switched from 6th grade to Music, I did it because I wanted to help these “at-risk” (I hate that term) kids deal with life. Giving kids the tools to get jobs is absolutely noble and necessary and good. Yes. All the power in the world to general classroom teachers. But I care more about giving kids the tools to cope when something goes down like a fellow classmate unexpectedly dying. Or your parents getting divorced. Or not getting into the university you applied for. Or a psychopath getting elected to lead our nation. Life is freaking hard, and tbh knowing how to divide fractions isn’t going to get you through it.

But in my experience, music can. My first year of teaching was pretty much Hell, but I listened to “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys on repeat, and it gave me hope and peace and strength. Coming home from the mission was hard, because I’d spent 21 years preparing for it, and I hadn’t really prepared for coming home. But listening to music I’d loved as a missionary helped me feel like my life wasn’t completely worthless without the nametag.

Finding out an innocent child died on Christmas was shocking. But sitting at my piano and playing a Beethoven Sonata I studied in college brought me the peace I needed. It didn’t necessarily take away the pain. I had to go to work the next day. But it calmed me down and reminded me that Someone bigger and smarter and better is in charge, and He’s got a plan. I want kids to be able to have that coping mechanism, for when words fail and all we can do is sit and cry and listen. That’s why I’m a music teacher.

12 thoughts on “When Words Fail”

  1. Many thanks for this lovely essay, Amber! Appreciating the suffering that innocent, good people sometimes experience is one of the most painfully necessary things to accept and still go forward.
    Sometimes I have wished I could change history–but I can’t. I can know that there is purpose in this crazy life and beautiful possibilities and my feelings of compassion and love and grief are good.

  2. So sad, so hard. I appreciate the difference you have made in my kids’ lives – Jane in particular! Your thoughts about helping kids (and non-kids) cope and heal through music are so beautiful. Much love.

  3. Thank you for sharing. This was very touching, especially coming from someone so dear to me! I love you.

  4. We are so lucky to know you, Amber and to learn from you. We only hope that we could be as sensitive and respond as appropriately as you did. Thanks for making the world brighter. We love you.

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