One of my students passed away on Friday.
Seven years ago, almost to the day, he said a statement that I found so profound, that I made it my Facebook status that night. He said:
"When life gives you lemons, make apple juice, and leave everybody wondering."
In my home, I have two children that are biologically related to me. In my life right now, I have give or take 70 children (although most of them are no longer children, and highly resent being called that) who occupy space in my thoughts, my prayers, my hopes, and sometimes my worries. They are my students. In addition to those 70, I have somewhere around 1200 that I have taught over the course of my career through workshops, retreats, conversations, tutoring, counseling, and in classrooms. While I may not remember them all by name, I remember their stories, their essences, their hopes and dreams, and most poignantly - their evolution over our work together. Out of those many, there are a select few that stand out, that remain with me even when our work together has ended, and years have passed They are the ones whose names I do remember, whose faces are forever in my memory, and their spirits in my heart. Each student, whether past, present, or future - is one of my kids. While I may not stay in touch with all of them, I am invested in their success, and deeply moved by their life changes.
He was still a child in passing. My heart broke for his family, for his sibling, who was also my student - and for that young soul whom I had the privilege to teach. While the time that we spent as teacher and student was a blip in life, a few years ago, memories of our conversations, his brilliant ideas, his descriptions of hijinks and grand schemes. I thought he was going to end up on top of the world. He was brilliant, creative, emotive. And, as I learned, he spent the last few years dealing with great struggle.
I thought about him all day on Friday, as I tried to teach my current students via little boxes on the screen. We are living in a reality right now where the classroom looks like a checkerboard, and our students are movable pieces. We can even take them off the board if we find them to be too disruptive. We can mute them, rename them, hide them. 25 of my students are the age he was when I taught him. Where will they be nine years from now? Where will we all be, even in just nine days?
This time that we live in is one that no generation alive today has every witnessed. We know nothing of global quarantines, social isolation, tanking markets, and a world united in grief. Some of our grandparents might -but we don't. We have been uniquely privileged for generations - on a global scale - knowing growth, advancement, and opportunity on an exponential scale.
At the same time, the world has also known violence, suffering, poverty, natural disasters, and upheaval on a dramatic and rising scale. Where are we? Who are we? We rarely have the time to ponder these questions - as we go from moment to moment, chasing the next "thing" - whether that thing is food, shelter, safety - or for the more privileged, something to occupy our time.
I spent time over Shabbat going back to my notes from my sessions with my student, when he was 11 years old. I noted that he was brilliant, that his spirit was so big - maybe bigger than his body could hold - and that his passion would be his strength, and his struggle.
He passed during a time of turmoil in the world, and perhaps his own turmoil was bigger. I thought about what he would say, faced with this situation. This was a kid who strapped a camera to his skateboarding helmet and slid down the steep streets around his building in Manhattan. This was a kid who had great plans, and big ambitions. He would have had the answer for this situation, certainly.
And here we are now. All of us with one mission: save humanity.
So let's do it for him because he won't get to see how this turns out, let's do it for those how have died already because of this pandemic, and those who struggle every single day.
We are all in this together. Stay home.
What's a few weeks for the sake of the rest of our lives?
Life goes on, even in isolation.
Stay home so we can mourn together, celebrate together, and be together again.