I'm feeling sad this afternoon. I got a call from the mom of a former student a little while ago. She was calling to tell me that her son, Jedediah, passed away on Tuesday.
I think he graduated 3 or 4 years ago. He was in my Reading Writing Workshop 9 class as a freshman, and then I taught him again in Oregon Lit and Creative Nonfiction Writing. Having him as a student for 3 different years, I got to know him pretty well.
Jed loved to write. He wrote with enthusiasm and vigor, if not finesse. His favorite genre was fantasy, and he brought me his chapters from time to time, beginning in freshman year. They were long on plot and short on character development, but Jed loved them.
He was such a nice kid. Always polite.
He got really sick a couple of times during his freshman year, so sick with pneumonia that I was afraid he might die. His family belongs to the Followers of Christ church here in Oregon City, a faith that does not use medical treatments, a faith that shuns its members who do.
During his senior year of high school, Jed stopped coming to school. His younger brother, Zack, was in my 9th grade class by then, so I would get updates from Zack: Jed is doing better, Jed will be back soon. I made packets of work for Jed to do, but eventually I stopped because he couldn't do the work. He was confined to his bed, couldn't even walk. Zack told me they were using herbs to treat M.S. Eventually Jed started to walk again, with a cane, and he finally made it back to enough of school that he barely passed the credits he needed to graduate.
When his mother called me today, she said she knew she should call me because Jed loved to write, he loved my class, and he loved me. I loved him, too.
She said he was happy up until the end, and he smiled every day. She said they had done everything possible for him, had given him all the medical help available. I hope that's true. I hope that if anything good has come out of the recent controversies for the Followers' families, it has been the lesson that they can't keep allowing their children to die without getting medical treatment for them. I hope they will stop shunning one another for taking care of their children.
I feel so torn between my anger and frustration with a faith that allows children with medical needs to go untreated, and my love of the individual students and their very real belief that this is God's will for them.
More ways I feel torn - this morning I got an email from the district liaison for homeless students, and learned that six...SIX!...of my seniors in first period are homeless. No wonder they're tardy and disorganized. Of the six, three of them are some of the brightest, strongest writers in the class, but I rarely see their writing, and when I do, it's always late. They don't have computers, they don't have transportation, but they do have constant crisis and chaos in their lives.
And then there's this: on Wednesday, I was reading a piece I wrote called "Pixie Dust" with my students. I wrote it several years ago, when the high school put on Peter Pan, and Mark was one of the "flyers" back stage, handling the equipment that made Peter and the Darling children fly. It's a chipper, cheerful piece, and the kids always enjoy reading it. Except that this time, I got as far as the second paragraph, and I was sobbing there in my classroom, in front of all the kids. It doesn't say it in the piece, but Mark was the flyer for the character John, who was played by Brad Ventura, who died of cancer at age 22 in June.
It's been a tough week. There's a lot I wish I could fix in the world.