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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Compassion Is Learned In Community

Lessons Learned

Reaching Beyond Ourselves Into A Friend's Pain


They were the sixth graders. They were the top of the school. Top dogs. Big cheeses. Willing helpers. Proud leaders.  Many of the sixth graders had started at our school in Kindergarten and for years had watched the parade of awesome sixth graders  traverse the hallways with a tiny bit of an air of nobility swirling around them; a nobility swirl established within the delicate balance between privilege and responsibility. They had now arrived and honestly wore the mantel of “big deal” very well. They gently served the younger students, provided confident leadership at all-school gatherings, behaved respectfully, most of the time, and rightly earned the position of positive role-models. They worked hard, played hard, held one another accountable, and left no sixth grader out. Then came the test. Unexpectedly, Mike’s father died.  Loss and grief and anguish and questions flooded their broken hearts and cast a deep dark sadness over the sixth grade.  Mike stayed home for a few days. The rest of the sixth graders, his school family, prayed for Mike and his family and grappled with a suitable loving, compassionate response for Mike when he returned. “Why?” remained the tormenting though unanswered question which held their hearts in a vise-grip of hurt. How do you mend a broken heart, how do you stop every tear? Then came the phone call and the request.  Mike’s mother, in making funeral preparations, asked the sixth grade teachers if the students might be willing to sing their benediction at the funeral.  How do you say no? Notes went home. Each sixth grader was to discuss this with his or her family and decide independently of the other students whether or not to participate. Funerals are hard. Many students had had no experience with funerals, and the thought was more than a bit frightening and overwhelmingly sad. There would be no judgment or shame or guilt if anyone chose not to participate, as the choice was fully up to each family. Notes from families came back the very next day. A unanimous yes was the response.  Mike’s mother was called. Plans were made.  The sixth graders, in their best clothes, arrived at the funeral, and Mike smiled to see them.  This school family, this community of friends, wrapped the gift of their tender hearts and beautiful singing around their pain-filled friend and in the glances exchanged, said without words, in the most perfect compassionate response, “We love you.”