October 8, 2012

The Length of a Room

It's been a busy two weeks, it's late on Sunday night and school starts early tomorrow, so I'm going to try to keep this one brief.

Last weekend I attended the memorial service for a family friend, a young woman who was very close to my brother-in-law. She was an exuberant, lovely person, who always gave the best gifts. She died far too young, but what the priest said at her memorial mass really stuck with me:

"We are all thinking that we didn't have enough time with her, that her life was not long enough. But when we love someone, anyone, only forever is long enough. This is why the love of our God is the only love that is truly enough, because it's forever."

While I didn't know her especially well, her death got me thinking about a couple of things. I have actually gone to the funeral of one of my students, and many other funerals for their family members. When the young die, it seems like double the tragedy: one for the loss of a loved one, and two for the loss of their potential. In times like these, I am always reminded of a lesson I was once given from a very memorable high school teacher.

It was my junior year, after a student had apparently committed suicide by lying on train tracks. It was many students' first experience with that kind of loss, the surprise and anger and regret that comes from someone taking their own life. This teacher had everyone watch her walk the length of her room, each foot placed carefully on the ground until she had made it from one side to the other.
She then looked up at us and said, "Imagine that the length of this room is the average life-span of a person. Let's say this person is you. You could all probably live to be at least 100, what with all the improvements in medicine these days. So, if the entire length of this room represents 100 years, that would put you about here," and she placed herself a little over a tenth of the way across the room.
She then gestured to all the space that lay in front of her, saying, "That means you have that much space left in your life, about 75 years to live." Turning around, looking at the short distance she had traveled, she then said, "And you've only come this far on your journey." She turned around again, "What lies ahead of you is so much greater than what you've come through, what you've lived. You've only lived a tiny bit of your lives. I know I'm a completely different person than I was when I was your age, and when I come to the end of my life, I will be a different person again. Yes, even I, your ancient teacher, have a lot of life yet to live: I'm only half way across this room."
She paused there and looked each of us in the eye, then said, "Whatever you're struggling with, whatever pain you are feeling right now, it is not big enough to beat you. It is not so bad that you should give up on all that life you have left to live."

That visual has stuck with me, and I often think to myself when I've got big problems, "I'm only a one fourth of the way across the room, I've got a lot of life left to live." I have even used this visual with my own students when the occasion called for it, because it's the kind of message teenagers need to hear. Anything that goes wrong is the end of the world when you're in-between 11 and 19, and young adults need a concrete example to help ground them when their hormones and emotions get out of control.

Maybe you know someone who might benefit from this message.

The other thing that's been rattling around my brain for the past few days is that I have lived an amazingly blessed life. I may have been sick for the past three weeks (my first gift I've received from my new students...) and I may have had a tough time finding a job this summer and have had my share of heartache and heartbreak, but my life is a glorious, amazing life. I've got a job that just keeps getting better and better as I crack open my students' cocoons to discover just who they truly are. I'm living in a place that I'm starting to find quite beautiful and have every basic need taken care of. I've got wonderful family that lifts me up and feeds my soul. And I've got a lot of life left to live.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful Jess. Thanks for writing this. I had forgotten that part of father's sermon, and didn't want to. Thanks for remembering.