Reflections on Life Through Death

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In the last several days I’ve been thinking a lot about life because someone I once knew just died. His name was Marc, and he was my former student. I taught him eighth grade math (yes, math) fifteen years ago.

Last week Marc succumbed to a year-long battle with cancer, but I found out about it after the fact. When I first saw the Facebook post about his passing, I recognized his face as one of my former students. I remembered that smile, but at first I couldn’t remember where I taught him. Then, I remembered him: he was funny, and he talked a lot. Once I recognized him in my mind, I cried for a while. He was so young (probably around 29), and from social media, I saw that he was newly married and with a couple of kids.  I know his friends and family miss him with an ache beyond words, and I my heart hurts for them when I think about how painful and difficult this is for them (although I cannot truly imagine their pain).

Marc’s death also triggered a reflection on my teaching life. I thought of my current students and wondered about their lives. I don’t want to waste the opportunities of influence I have with them. I thought, What if this happens to one of them several years down the road? No matter who they are, or how they behave, we all have this in common: life is shorter than we dare allow ourselves to think about. I want to make sure that my students know I care, even on bad days when they show me how much they would rather be on summer vacation than in my class reading Shakespeare or writing an essay.

 

Marc’s death also got my thinking about my personal life. I could die at a relatively young age. Even before his passing, I’ve had a habit  of thinking about my own death on a regular basis so that I’ll live wisely now. I also thought about these last fifteen years since it was fifteen years ago that I taught him. My life has changed so much since then. Fifteen-ish years ago was the year that I got married, and now I’m divorced. I had no idea that my marriage would bring me a wonderful daughter ten years later, nor did I have any clue what my marriage would be like and that it would one day end in divorce, instead of “till death do us part.” I couldn’t have predicted that I’d still be teaching fifteen years from then either. During that school year, I was a second year teacher who still had much to learn.

Looking toward the future feels like trying to see into a dark cave without daylight or a flashlight. My comfort is that I’m not alone, even when it kind of feels that way. Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). For that I am grateful.

I’m also thankful I was privileged to teach Marc fifteen years ago, but I didn’t see it as a privilege then. Teaching was my job, but I was barely keeping my nose and mouth above the waterline, even though I wanted to positively impact my students. I’m thankful that Marc has family and friends who love him deeply, a couple of whom I’ve been able to connect with recently.

 

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I’m Buying A House

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Right now I’m in the process of buying a home. It’s not the first time I’ve bought a home, but it’s the first time I’ve done this as a single woman, which has been exciting and unnerving. It makes me feel very adult in the I’m-18-and-I’m-freaking-out-because-this-high-school-gig-is-up kind of way. I didn’t freak out when I was eighteen, but as a high school teacher I’ve seen some high school kids who start to grasp the whole becoming an adult reality prior to graduation. The exciting aspect of buying this home is to be expected; it’s like a physical manifestation of my new phase in life.  I finally get to live in my own space: get a dog, paint, design my back yard, have a little garden, plant rose bushes, redo cabinets, etc. Most importantly, I want my daughter to feel a sense of permanence, instead of upheaval; her life has been chaotic enough in the last couple of years, and my heart breaks for her.

But the unnerving part of home buying has really revealed my deep insecurities. I desire certainty to an unnatural degree. Yes, I’m newly divorced, my former marriage was emotionally traumatizing, and I’ve moved six times in the last seven years (even when I was married). For those familiar with MBTI, I’m an extroverted feeler (No, that doesn’t make me an extrovert). I can read other people’s emotions (often without even realizing it), and I sometimes feel like a mind reader—but I’m not. Despite that, or because of that, I’m incredibly good at detaching from my own emotions; I can describe my personal experiences like a third person narrator without trying. It takes a lot of effort to connect with how I truly feel because I’ve had a lifetime of not allowing myself to go there. I usually don’t know my own feelings until I feel them in my body or talk them out with a friend, and right now my shoulders are stiff like steel. I’ve had daily headaches for over a week, but thankfully today has just been tension, rather than pain. My anxiety has also been my ever-present shadow. Thankfully, I haven’t had any anxiety attacks recently, but my anxiety has another physical side, dizziness. My counselor and naturopath have separately observed that I exhibit symptoms of mild PTSD, which is connected to this dizziness.

In all of this home buying, I desperately want to do the right thing. I want to provide the best environment for my daughter, and I want to make wise financial decisions.  I’ve prayed a lot before and during this process, I’ve had other people pray too, and I’ve seen some answers to prayer. I know that I’m doing the right thing, but as in every experience in my life, I’m scared. What do I do when I’m scared? I pray a lot, although never enough. I read my Bible, but not because I have to—I want to. One fear I have gotten over is the fear that God is ready to hit me or punish me if I screw up. I grasp His love so much more than I used to; I know He’s not ready to punish me because I’m His. He just wants me to know Him and to let Him know me. Talking with Him and remembering His character and promises calms me down. I still have a long way to go though.

~Christine