Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Enjoy Life

I heard yesterday that a student I once knew died in a fire early Saturday morning. He was at his girlfriend's house, which was owned by her parents though they weren't there. He was only 17 years old and had finished his high school credits a couple months ahead of graduation.

The cause of the fire isn't yet known but the girlfriend apparently tried to get him out of the house and couldn't do it. She had to leave him. My sympathy goes out to her and the families and friends. There are no words. Life isn't fair.

When you're younger, it seems you have the idea that if you do what everyone tells you to do, you are guaranteed certain things. You get good grades, you go to college. If you work hard, you'll be successful. At some point, you start to realize there are no guarantees. You've been so concerned with what you SHOULD do and whether you WILL do it or not that you don't realize that life is more unforeseen circumstances and heartrending surprises than ordered systems and predictable outcomes.

This is the third student I know who died suddenly. One boy was thrown out of a rolling car during summer break, and one year, a girl was a passenger in a car driven by another student on Halloween when he lost control. She also died in a fire as the driver and his girlfriend attempted to rescue her. In both accidents - drugs, alcohol, and other cars were not factors. Inexperienced drivers were.

I can still remember my last conversation with the female student. We were celebrating Halloween at school. I was dressed as a witch, and she was trying to take my broom for the weekend. I told her no at least three times, and we were laughing, but she left with a slightly hurt look on her face.

I kept going back to that last interaction while sitting at her three-hour funeral conducted mainly in Spanish. Should I have given her the broom? That probably sounds superficial and self-involved, but I couldn't stop thinking about whether small changes in action could have somehow led to a different outcome. She had decided not to get dressed up that night and was getting a ride home from work instead of going out. If I had given her the broom, would she have decided to dress up, and would she have been in a different car on her way to a party?

One of my old supervising teachers, Mr. Mellow with the kitten posters and free time in class, was the step-dad of the boy who was driving her. Did his we-ask-too-much-of-the-kids philosophy somehow lead to the boy's negligence in driving? One student told me that the car was in need of maintenance . . . did that have anything to do with it? But these are rhetorical questions.

The boy who died in the summer created a page for our yearbook at the end of the school year. I think it was for the poetry section. He had dashed off a quick poem and illustrated it with a drawing of a clock that couldn't have taken him more than 20 seconds. The subject of the poem was how much time do we have left . . . no one really knows, so enjoy life while you can. When I first saw his page, I thought, why didn't he make more of an effort on that? After he died, I saw his rush to enjoy the little time he had left.

picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/4569242626/

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