Today was Picture Day. I forgot. But when I noticed about five boys in a row wearing button-down shirts I figured something was up. Luckily I’m still in the first-few-weeks-of-school-and-trying-to-look-authoritative phase, so at least I was wearing a cardigan. I look like a total dork in my picture, but I figured it was just the middle school awkward-ness rubbing off on me.
I think I’ll always remember this Picture Day, though. Technology has increased at an almost alarming rate since I last took a school picture, and the kids got photo ID cards right away. The Lifetouch people just print them out right there in the gym! It was very impressive.
But that’s not why I’ll remember today.
In my 6th grade English class the students were working on a brainstorming graphic organizer activity. They are supposed to be coming up with a complex main character for the Fortunately, Unfortunately stories that they’ll be starting tomorrow. (I’ll dedicate another blog post to that assignment soon). I was trolling around the room, checking on students’ progress and making sure that everyone was quiet enough that we could still hear Katy Perry sing, “Ro-o-o-o-o-o-a-a-ar,” at medium volume level. Most kids were comparing their photo ID cards.
One boy showed me his ID card and said, “I look like my dad in this picture. Isn’t that funny?” I smiled and said, “Yeah, funny!” and started to move on to another group.
“My dad died when I was in 3rd grade,” he added.
I stopped in my tracks. “Oh my gosh, that is really, really sad,” I said. “It’s good that you look like him so that when your family sees you, they’ll think of your dad and be happy.” I don’t know how I came up with that. I think the Holy Spirit gave me the words because I kind of wanted to just cry for him.
“He died of diabetes,” he continued. “So I think I might get it, too. I have to be really healthy.”
“Yes, please make sure you eat really good food, okay? You have to stay healthy!”
“Yeah, I think he was sick because of what he ate. Also my dog died in 3rd grade.”
Really, kid? My heart can only take so much! “Wow, that sounds like a really sad year. What a combination! That must have been really hard.”
He was very matter-of-fact about his loss and his health concerns, but he didn’t seem too shaken up at that moment. I eventually had to move on to make sure people in other groups had something (anything!) written down on their worksheets, but his little face stayed with me all day. I think he is eleven, and he has already faced such heartbreaking life events. I still don’t know what it feels like to lose a parent. I haven’t even lost a grandparent.
He reminded me that these kids have so many issues hiding just below the surface. Honestly, most have them have faced more hardships in their short lives than I have in mine. They deal with so much, and then sometimes I get mad at them for not getting their homework turned in. I feel like it is my responsibility to hold them to a high standard so that they become responsible people, and they can rely on themselves. Some of these kids don’t have trustworthy or capable adults in their lives, so it’s important to me that they become trustworthy and capable for themselves. But sometimes I just need to give them grace. And genuine sympathy and care. This little guy will be in my prayers.