I remember a small, wiry boy with dreadlocks, who bounced into my classroom as a five year old. He sang with gusto, was a class clown, and made me laugh even when he was disrupting my ‘teacher’s flow.’
I remember his big round eyes that took everything in. I remember an infectious, impish grin that showed that he got the joke. I remember him sometimes wanting to sing in my chorus, sometimes not; when he did, all eyes turned to the skinny boy with the big smile and saucer eyes that peeked through the floppy, jester-hat dreadlocks.
I remember watching him run 5k races with his up-and-down stride that still managed to propel him forward. I remember every hug, every high-five, and every field trip. What I don’t remember is anything in him that would cause him to take his own life before his 20th birthday. Rest in Peace, Randall; I hope you know how much you were loved.
My lessons from this? Always listen to every kid. There’s a girl I spend time with at the school bus stop every morning. She has a habit of telling me every detail of every minute of her life each day, while standing so close that I can feel her breath (if you know me, you know that I’m a toucher/hugger and my personal space cushion is very small, so if this is making me uneasy, you KNOW she’s too close for comfort!). This week I’ve made a real effort to pay close attention to her, to take slow deep breaths when I feel my space encroached and to just relax. I wonder: if a few more people had listened to Randall, would that have made a difference?
It also was, as these tragedies tend to be, a mighty perspective check. Really, when things like this are happening, is whatever I’m worrying/arguing/bitching about really a 10 on the emotional Richter scale? Of course not. Randall’s battle wasn’t about healthcare, partisan politics, talk radio ping-pong, global warming, or who deserved a Nobel Peace Prize. Randall’s battle was about survival, and he lost. So did the world.
Maybe, the next time any of us feel like criticizing someone, making an unkind remark, or flying off the handle about something, we could stop and ask ourselves, “Is this a 10?” If not, maybe it doesn’t need to be released into the universe. Maybe a deep breath, a quick perspective check, and a prayer would restore patience and compassion. Who knows? That peaceful pause might save a life.