Before the first day of school this year, I learned that a student who was to attend our campus took her own life. She was 15. This would have been her 16th year. It should have been a shining time for her: a junior in high school, a driver’s license, maybe her first job, and if her family was like mine, her first date (I had to be 16).
Her family, of course, is devastated. I didn’t even know this child, and I am devastated, as I am every single time I hear of the awful reality of suicide.
We have to do something.
I don’t know what, really. I do know that the world should be a hopeful place. I also know that so often adults refuse to act like it is. I am as guilty as the next guy of going through the motions, mirroring the depressive nature of my Bad Day. But I vow to stop.
I want to be an example of hope. I want to smile more. Love more. Laugh more. I want my students to see that I love my job. I cannot wait to get there. (That’s what being at a new school has done for me this year. I’ve let the negativity that I let nag at my soul so long go, and I feel new, reborn, liberated. Strange to use those words, I know, but they describe the “freeing” best.)
Recently, I read Matthew Quick’s book Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, and it rocked my world. Seriously. You know when you read a book, and then it haunts you — like forever? This is one of those books for me. I am, and will be, a better teacher, friend, wife, mother, daughter, colleague, leader, consultant because I read this book.
Here is a bit that I will use in class. Maybe we’ll use this passage for close reading. It’s a good one for tone or sentence structure. Maybe we’ll use it to launch a class discussion about hopes and dreams and how to hold on to them. I don’t know yet. But there’s something important here — for us and our students. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, p46-47
The whole time I pretend I have mental telepathy. And with my mind only, I’ll say– or think?–to the target, “Don’t do it. Don’t go to that job you hate. Do something you love today. Ride a roller coaster. Swim in the ocean naked. Go to the airport and get on the next flight to anywhere just for the fun of it. Maybe stop a spinning globe with your finger and then plan a trip to that very spot; even if it’s in the middle of the ocean you can go by boat. Eat some type of ethnic food you’ve never even heard of. Stop a stranger and ask her to explain her greatest fears and her secret hopes and aspirations in detail and then tell her you care because she is a human being. Sit down on the sidewalk and make pictures with colorful chalk. Close your eyes and try to see the world with you nose–allow smells to be your vision. Catch up on your sleep. Call an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Roll up your pant legs and walk into the sea. See a foreign film. Feed squirrels. Do anything! Something! Because you start a revolution one decision at a time, with each breath you take. Just don’t go back to that miserable place you go every day. Show me it’s possible to be an adult and also be happy. Please. This is a free country. You don’t have to keep doing this if you don’t want to. You can do anything you want. Be anyone you want. That’s what they tell us at school, but if you keep getting on that train and going to the place you hate I’m going to start thinking the people at school are liars like the Nazis who told the Jews they were just being relocated to work factories. Don’t do that to us. Tell us the truth. If adulthood is working some death-camp job you hate for the rest of your life, divorcing your secretly criminal husband, being disappointed in your son, being stressed and miserable, and dating a poser and pretending he’s a hero when he’s really a lousy person and anyone can tell that just by shaking his slimy hand–if it doesn’t get any better, I need to know right now. Just tell me. Spare me from some awful f******fate. Please.”
Note: There are two footnotes in this passage. I left them off quite simply because I do not know how to format them in WordPress. Sorry, Mr. Quick.