Donna Tilly was nervously trying to lock the front door of her classroom which made the collection of keys around her key chain rattle even louder. I could tell she was struggling as she tried to remember whether left or right was the proper way to find security. It’s a simple task but can instantly turn into a huge ordeal if there’s twenty other things on your mind. The onlooking students stood quietly as her frustration grew.
“Do you need help Mrs. Tilly?” I asked, as she finally found the right turn. She let out a short exasperated gasp – made her way towards me and whispered, “Daniel’s father was killed in an accident last night and he won’t be returning for a while.” I didn’t remember who Daniel was but any tragedy that involves a student deserves a quick dramatic reaction.
After two years of teaching second grade, I decided it was time for me to try something different. In my head, third grade was the next logical step in furthering my pedagogy and sharpening my teaching skills. It was also the year I figured out that no matter how many degrees I had hanging on my wall, there is no preparation for student tragedy. When you work with a child on a daily basis and an event changes their life for good…it can be devastating for all parties involved.
Daniel’s father was well known parent at Crestview Elementary. All the female teachers from kindergarten to third loved the fatherly devotion to his son’s education. He attended every classroom field trip and activity throughout the year. Daniel’s father worked an evening shift which allowed him the freedom to spend the mornings with this son. As sweet and loving as this all appeared – life had other plans.
One Sunday evening, Daniel’s father, two uncles and a friend were driving home in a black Chevy Blazer.
As they approached a major intersection, the driver of the Blazer decided to gun it as the light changed from yellow to red. The Blazer wasn’t close enough to safely cross the intersection as he accelerated the gas. Unfortunately, a vehicle was already approaching from the right side before both cars collided. After the hit, the oncoming car spun out several times before coming to a complete stop. As for the Chevy Blazer, it spun around as well but met its fate around a cement utility pole:
After everything was said and done, one of the passengers of the oncoming car was killed instantly. It turns out it was a mother and her twelve year old son. The boy died. All the passengers of the Chevy Blazer died instantly as the car WRAPPED around the utility pole and broke half.
WRAPPED AROUND THE UTILITY POLE AND BROKE IN HALF.
That’s all I kept thinking about after I heard the news. Once I processed the wreckage, I then had to process the casualties: a mother lost her son and mother of three who lost her husband.
When the day of the funeral arrived, the staff collected funds and supplies for the now single mother of three. From what I learned, Daniel’s mother didn’t have a job and was now responsible for her three kids under ten years of age.
What I Figured Out
I remember during this time, I was going through my own personal struggles with relationships, It was at a time when I had to make peace with that fact that no church sanctioned marriage, no wedding ring or even being right with God guaranteed happily ever after. Even if you’re an atheist and you found your soul mate it still didn’t matter.
Tragedy can happen at any time and when it does life doesn’t tell us which direction to go in. Most of the time we go kicking and screaming but eventually something has to give; either we learn to go with the flow or become so resistant to change that we become bitter. And maybe bitterness is part of the journey? Either way, we’re left to figure it out.