Saturday, July 23, 2011

When a student goes off to war....

I love visiting with former students. Watching as teenagers grow into adulthood is one of my favorite things about teaching. Tonight I had a visit from a former student. JJ joined the Marines right after he graduated and is being deployed to Afghanistan for a year. As proud of him as I am, it hurts to watch him leave.

We laughed a lot this evening. We talked about a lot of things. His family. His friends. The girls he is seeing. The things he has been doing while home. The preparations for war he is making. We talked about his job. We talked about my job. We talked about how much he misses his family and friends. About how much he misses being in my classroom with his friends. About how much I miss his class. But mostly, we just talked as friends. Friends who are different, but friends who are close in spite of (or maybe because of) those differences.

I told him the story of the students who told me that I like the "wrong" kind of students. Who told me that I should like the students who share my values: "the good kids". JJ is a young man who doesn't share my values. He drinks, he smokes, he sleeps around, he swears...a lot. But I love him. JJ told me it is a good thing that he wasn't there when the kids said that to me. It made him so mad that people would question which students I like. These kids didn't ask why I like certain students, they just said I liked the wrong ones. So, I also told JJ about the first students who asked my why I like JJ so much. JJ was curious, and he asked what I said.

I told him that I will cry if I tell him. He said, "Don't cry, but tell me." So I told him. "I love you because the moment you walked into my class something told me that you were special. I knew you had a heart of gold. I knew that you would crawl into my heart and stay there, and you did just that. I said that I know that you love me and if I ever need you, you'll be here. I also know that you know that if you ever need me, I will be there for you."

I told him that I have said the following to only a handful of kids, and he is one of them. I said, "JJ, I love you so much because even though I will never know the difference that I made in your life, I will always know the difference you made in mine. You have changed me and made me a better person and a better teacher. I like you and I love you because of who you are underneath everything you portray to the world. That hasn't changed since the moment you walked in my life."

JJ looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I will always know the difference you made in my life, and I love you, too."

So now, JJ leaves for a war. A war that he is anxious to fight. A war from which I pray he returns.

I took a picture with him tonight. He said, "Are you afraid I'm going to die?" I said, "No, I just want your picture because you were a part of my day." In truth, I am terrified that JJ will die. It's not a feeling; it is just a fear. He is going to war. He is going to an active war zone. Of course I am afraid he won't come home.

But, I will sleep well tonight knowing that it is men like JJ who are fighting for freedoms around the world. He has a soul that is as true at God's stars. He has a has one of the most valiant hearts I have ever seen. I am proud to have been his teacher, and I am proud to be his friend.

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