119

I WAS IN A ROOM FILLED WITH FORMER STUDENTS TODAY.  It was so disorienting to be standing next to a grown man and suddenly realize that they were a second grader in your class a very long time ago.  I would look at an unfamiliar face and then suddenly it would morph into the very familiar face of one of my beloved students.  "Oh, it's you!"  

I had the honor of attending the celebration of the life of one of my students, Evan.  I remember him a little second grader with thick bangs, and the cutest smile.  He was such a sharp, intelligent little guy who learned things quickly, and truly enjoyed life.  I taught him again in middle school and then later his freshman year.  He grew to be a man full of tremendous intellect and kindness.  He was a beautiful human.

He lived not quite twenty-six years.  It is too short amount of time by anyone's standards.  Today we gathered with his brother, mother and father, to somehow honor this young man's life.  We were comforted by Evan's own words, as he was a poet.  His poetry is beautiful and honest -- which pretty much sums Evan up.  

As a teacher, my exposure to my students is limited.  They come into my class and read books with me.  We discuss and write papers, but their real life is beyond my classroom.  Their world is made up of friends and sweethearts.  They experience love, joy, anguish, guilt, fear, and hope that has nothing to do with a rectangular room filled with desks and books. 

I was so proud to see these sweet children grown, and supporting one another on this most difficult of days.  They stood up and spoke of their friend, read his poetry and sang his songs.  They hugged his mother and father, and stood beside his younger brother.  They are a community that loves one another.  It was beautiful to see.

I wish I could've stayed and spoken with each one.  I wish I could've hugged all of them.  I was so proud to see them standing up for their dear friend, and for each other.  The whole afternoon I kept thinking of Evan's laugh, and some lines from JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:  "Frodo, 'I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened!'  Gandalf, 'So do all who  live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'"

Evan was a young man determined to live his life intentionally.  Even back in high school he thought about who he wanted to be and was always reflective on his own actions.  He was a deeply thoughtful person, who didn't want to waste anything.

This was true even in his death.  Evan was an organ donor, and there are anywhere from five to eight people alive today because of that deliberate choice he made.  He understood the importance of organ donation because back when he was in middle school, a good friend of his received a heart transplant.  He knew what was at stake.  Now today, Evan's heart beats on for someone else, and I find that concept both painful and comforting all at the same time.  I wish he were still here, and that his heart was still beating for him and for those who loved him, but I am grateful that even in death, his kindness lives on.

It is a testament to the kind of man that Evan was that the hall could barely contain all those who came to honor him today.  So many people were there - some who had known him a life time and others who had met him just once or twice.  He was the kind of person who would draw you in, and include you, even if you were a stranger.  

Both his father and his brother spoke, and I've never seen greater strength or love.  On the most heart-breaking of days, to speak for one you love.  There is a beautiful picture of his brother Alex surrounded by his parents as he speaks - supportive and united.  

This is also my strongest memory of Evan -- the way his mother and father always advocated for him, and for his younger brother.  They did not take a back seat to his life, but were deeply involved - empowering both boys to accomplish whatever they had their hearts set on.  I see his mother speaking on his behalf when he had not yet found his voice.  She was and is, an infinitely good mother.

Evan's voice will be missed, and those who knew him best cling to his memory and to the words he penned, awaiting the day that they will see him again.  It was an honor to know him, and now I can only decide to live the time I was given with a deliberate intent.

--Jen