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.