Thursday, February 01, 2007

To Be or Not to Be

I'm just finishing up a unit on Hamlet with my seniors (tomorrow, in fact). I've been teaching this play for some 20 years, although I change up what I do each year to keep it fresh for myself. Some things don't change, though. For example, I always have the "to be or not to be" discussion at some point during the unit. I'm always prepared for the discussion because it usually happens when I decide it's going to happen (dictated, of course, by when we arrive at that particular scene in the play).

What I'm never prepared for is when I have that discussion with a student...for real. Three times this week, I've found myself on the listening end of students who wanted to kill themselves. It's not a new experience. It's been happening since my first year of teaching. But it does not get easier with each time like some things do. It is always shocking, always frightening, always unspeakably sad.

It doesn't happen often in the small Christian schools I've worked in. But it has happened in each of them, and somehow, for some reason, the question seems to come my way, more often than not. This week, three different times I was helping kids wrestle with the age-old question. What was new about the first two times is that it was a six year old posing the question. What do you tell a six year old who says he wants to kill himself, who says "I don't want to be in my life"?

Faced with that question first thing Monday morning somehow shifted my whole focus, not only of the day, but of the week. I've not been able to shrug off the unbearable sadness of that little voice saying to me that his life was miserable and he wanted out. At the time, I just put my arm around him and told him that I loved him, and so did Jesus, something that I couldn't do with the 17 year old boy twice in my office today with the same question, "what's the point of living"?

I have no handy philosophical conclusion to this entry any more than I've had one all week long. Except this one thing that I know for sure. Kids need someone to listen to them. They need to know there are adults who respect them and care about their present and their future. I don't always have answers, but I do have time. Time to let a kid know they matter to me...and to God. I can't take away the pain and misery from their lives, but I can give them a moment's respit. For the six year old, it was enough for that day. For the 17 year old, it was a start. For me, it was a reminder of why I am where I am, doing what I do.


Heidi said...

Wow. That makes my week look like a walk in the park. We just had a youth rally...the theme was "Embrace His Scars: life hurts... but our scars match up." The speaker was Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

“Teens face two colliding needs: the need to connect with people and the need to protect oneself,”
he said. “Those two needs drive everything else.”

He also taught a parent/youth leader workshop. Here are part of his comments: "“It’s important to express acceptance and care. Most adults believe kids are the problem. The problem is parents living through their kids. If the kids mess up, it reflects on the parent. In the past, children
were accepted into the community. Today, kids are welcomed if and when they perform enough to be

Rondi said...

I shared your comment with the staff this morning. Thank you for sharing it. It's been a challenging week for all of us...full moon, week of prayer, all that on top of the normal stresses of school...

Sunny said...

At least they come to you. That says a lot. Can't even tell you how often I've prayed for all the struggles you have in your mission.

Rondi said...

Thanks, Sunny. That means a lot.