Thursday, October 3, 2013


The word perspective has taken on new meaning in the months following my father’s sudden death this past June. I have been thinking about his experiences in his final years, months, weeks, days, and hours. I have been thinking about my grief and the perspectives of his other four children who are also mourning. I am comparing my experience with those of  Dad’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren, his brother, nieces, nephews, his in-laws, friends, Maine Maritime Academy classmates, and of course, my Mom. What does she think about? How is she doing?

I thought of the word “perspective’ last week when just five minutes after entering my classroom one morning, a student of mine asked to speak to me privately. She shared with me her stress and uncertainty of knowing how to graduate on time this year, now that she is not living at her mother’s home. “How’s that for perspective?” I thought as I prepared to begin the rest of my teaching day.

Later, in my IB English class, we discussed Persepolis, a memoir of Marjane Satrapi told in the medium of a graphic novel. The eleven of us in the classroom, all Americans, admitted our naive thinking and lack of awareness of the conditions for the people of Iran during the last several decades and how our eyes are opened to the trials of our fellow human beings when we get the opportunity to read a work like hers. We discussed Maus by Art Spiegelman, another memoirist who detailed his own life in graphic novel style also, and how it was affected by his father’s time during the Holocaust and his mother’s suicide when he was quite young. We viewed the making of the Persepolis movie, one of the special features within a dvd of the film. Once again, perspective ruled. My students expressed their amazement over the work of the animators, voice-over actors, sound engineers, and the writer/director Marjane Satrapi. “I won’t be able to watch this movie without thinking about all this now”, one student said. Exactly. 

At the end of the school day, each of my children texted or called me on the phone to share news of their day and/or to ask advice. I thought of how much I love being a Mom, how parenting children continues beyond the years they live at home, and how I am now without parents to give me counsel. How odd that feels after 45 years of being a daughter! 

Returning to school the next morning, I knew what was coming. We were scheduled for a Rachel’s Challenge assembly. For anyone unaware of what this is, let me briefly explain. Rachel Joy Scott was the first victim in the Columbine High School shootings back in 1999. To honor her own acts of kindness and compassion during her lifetime, Rachel’s dad and step-mom started a student-empowerment program to support teens to reach out to others to end isolation and despair and to create a more positive culture of acceptance in their schools. The challenge extends to adults in school and also business settings as well. The assembly delivered a beautiful message. Once again, the word “perspective” washed over me. I dug my fingernails into my palm, my trick to stave off tears. I wondered whether the discussion was reaching anyone else in the audience in a powerful way. I looked up into the bleachers where students were sitting and I saw one of my students wiping tears from her face. I wondered, “What’s her story? What is she thinking about?” 

Sadly, just two days later, in the midst of our school’s Homecoming Weekend festivities, a 19 year old man from a neighboring school community took his life in our school’s parking lot. What drove that young man to such a point of desperation and hopelessness? I heard his dad died recently. I heard his girlfriend had broken up with him. I heard people saying, “I wish I could have had a chance to talk with him for just one hour. I wish I’d had a chance to talk him out of this, to give him a reason to have hope”.  I thought of people who counsel others and who remind others that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I wondered how people I would come into contact with during the next week were going to react? Some people expressed anger at the young man. This bothered me. A couple of my students had heard the gun shot. Many more of my students were evacuated from the sports fields where games were being played, none of them knowing what was going on, moving in fear and confusion. Once the news had gotten out, the community rallied to support our children and one another, and made plans to show our neighboring community the kindness and compassion we had pledged to offer one another just two days earlier.

Today is Thursday. It’s been a rough week for me and many others. I’m struggling because I’m missing my Dad an awful lot, wishing he were still here for me to talk to, but I’m doing my best to pull my head out of that sad space on a daily basis. It helps to have all these distractions here at school, but at the same time, weighing the situations and reflecting upon the various stories we all share with one another can be exhausting. The perspective we have on this world is continuously shaped by our experiences and the people we interact with during the course of our days. It shifts and is challenged, but it’s our own to be in control of. And sometimes, perspective is the best thing we have going for us. 

At least, that’s my perspective today. 

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