Friday, June 07, 2024

Poetry Friday: Funeral

This week my husband and I watched a funeral on Facebook Live, a funeral for a married couple, missionaries both in their very early twenties, killed in gang violence last month in Haiti. The young man used to be in a playgroup I went to with my child years ago -- but not that many years -- in Port-au-Prince; while we moms, including his, met together, our children would play and learn Bible stories. At the funeral, one of the pastors read a poem he'd written where he grieved these two, and don't we so often turn to poems, from the Bible or elsewhere, when there's an unbearable loss? So I wrote one too, not so much because it helps as because I'm not sure what else to do, except to pray for those dads, who both spoke with tears in their voices, and those moms, whose grief is so deep, and all the others who have lost these two particular young people. And to pray, too, for all the thousands and thousands and thousands of Haitians who have lost more than I can imagine, their homes and their livelihoods and their country and worst of all, the people they loved, in the last few years.



I know the flamboyan trees were
covered with red blossoms
when it happened
because it was May
in Haiti
and I know
the sound of gunshots
and the sounds of grief
in Haiti

The sounds of grief in Missouri
are not quite as loud and unrestrained
as they lay to rest
two young people who loved Haiti
but the grief is just as real
We don’t grieve as those who have no hope,
they say
Death didn’t win,
they say
And of course those things are true
but you can’t help crying
as you look at their wedding photos from just two years ago
and as you think of
the two thousand five hundred people
already killed
in the first three months of this year
in Haiti

I know it was a beautiful day
when it happened
because it’s always a beautiful day
in Haiti


©Ruth Bowen Hersey



A flamboyan tree in Haiti

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

SJT: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Our topic for SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) for June is Looking Back, Looking Forward. On Thursday you'll be able to see the roundup of everyone's thoughts here, on Karen's blog.


This is the perfect time for me to look back and look forward, since next week we'll be finishing school for the year. This year was not Haiti-level challenging, but it did have its very difficult moments. (Of course most of those stories are confidential.) And even though we're a long way from Haiti, the Haiti struggles continue to be on our hearts and minds. 

I'm planning on coming back to this same classroom next year; this will be my third year in this job, at this desk, where I sit typing now. So the looking back and forward are less dramatic and heartbreaking than some of my recent transitions. It really is a gentle shift to summer break, and then back to work in August. And for that I am extremely grateful. (Hooray for non-dramatic and non-heartbreaking!)


I've been working on getting my curriculum documents updated. That's a good way to see the big picture, the goals for the whole year, the material we cover in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh grade. Next year I'll teach a full-blown AP French class to twelfth graders for the first time (I've had students take the exam before, and do well, but this time the whole course will be focused on getting kids ready for the exam next May.) 

I recently read Emily P. Freeman's newest book, How To Walk Into a Room. Here are some words from that book as I think back and forward at the end of this school year. Back over this year, but also back over the last few years.

...there's one thing no one can take from us, one thing we will never leave behind, one thing that is not confined to any past room, current hallway, or future room -- that is the person we have become and are becoming. Hints of our next right thing can usually be found in our last right thing. I have always found this to be true. The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us but because of the person we have become. When things end, we come forth changed. We would do well to take some time to pay attention to these changes, to mark them, to honor them and see how they might lead us forward.


As much as I wish everything could be held, named, and either left behind or brought with us, there's a final category that might show up in endings that could keep us from experiencing closure. And that is what I call the "lost" category. It's the smoky, ungraspable, wordless, impossible to categorize absence of a thing. In every ending -- happy, sad, or indifferent -- something is lost. But because something is often also gained, that's what we are encouraged to focus on. We work hard to name the gifts and positive summaries of those gains. We are prone to want to count the blessings, to name the lessons, and to share all the ways our pain has been used for good. Maybe there's nothing necessarily wrong with that desire, but it can keep us from grieving what deserves grief. Something is always lost. And it's important to let the lost things be lost. Honor what you cannot name with space, compassion, and time.


Here's some of what I lost:


I lost Room 23, my classroom for fifteen years in Haiti. I lost that bookshelf full of the professional books I'd gradually brought, a few at a time, in my suitcase from the US. I lost the classroom library of kids' books I'd lovingly chosen. I lost my name on the door, my fingerprints on every surface. I lost the me that taught there.


Instead, I got Room A2, my classroom for two years, and counting, in Uganda.  I got the Petit Nicolas and Astérix and Bill et Boule books, gathered by others, the textbooks and dictionaries I didn't select. And there are things I've added: the francophone flags coloured by last year's fifth graders, the ABC pictures I coloured and used to line the walls. A is for Avion, B is for Bateau, all the way to Z is for Zèbre. My handwriting fills the drawers, my voice echoes through the room.

I spell words in the British way now (see, in that last paragraph?), the way I learned - learnt - to do in school, but haven't done for a long time. I have two years of stories that happened here in A2, funny kid stories and some sad ones too. 

But I still miss Room 23. I miss my Orangina can where I'd put a sprig of bougainvillea. I miss my clipboards and my systems, honed over years. I miss the tree outside and the Haitian birds that perched there. Most of all, I miss those voices, all those children I taught. They have all moved on too, on to high school, college, adulthood. But if I were still there in Room 23, some might have come back to visit. I might even have taught their children; that had just started to happen when we left Haiti. That room was full of my prayers, prayed with and for my students, prayed with and for my colleagues.

"It's important to let the lost things be lost," writes Emily P. Freeman. Goodbye, my lost Room 23. Does anyone remember me there? Hello, Room A2. What awaits me here, next year? What prayers are still to be prayed? Who will I be?