~This is a new post~
The murder of Samantha Josephson has consumed me since I heard on the morning of Saturday, March 30th.
Samantha graduated from the high school which I’ve taught for 12 years.
I didn’t teach Samantha but I taught her sister and when Samantha was a 12th grader we shared a few passing conversations about attending the University of South Carolina.
As a teacher, students come in and out of your life at a torrid pace.
In my 15 year teaching career, I estimate I have taught around 2,000 students. Majority of which, once they’ve graduated, I never saw or talked to again. This is just the nature of teaching. Students come and go and everyone moves on.
Saturday, March 30th was my birthday.
As I was eating dinner with my family my phone rang. It was a student I taught 10 years ago, who I have miraculously remained in contact with. He called to wish me happy birthday and suggest we get together soon. I told him absolutely. I said I would check my calendar and be in touch. Then we each hung up the phone and parted ways.
The truth is– I don’t remember the names of most of my former students (and I certainly don’t remember their grades). But I remember their story. And when I heard about Samantha’s death, I remember her excitement, as if she told me this morning, about attending the University of South Carolina when we talked in my classroom almost 4 years ago.
And that memory, even as I type it, hurts.
To one another, most people are like, as Longfellow wrote, “ships that pass in the night.”
We see each other, make brief contact, and often never know the significance of the encounter until we sail to other waters.
Yet at the heart of humanity is connectivity. We do not exist on our own. Our life was gifted to us by the living. Our existence is dependent on others.
We are the only species that sees a reflection of ourselves in the words and actions others. It’s what separates us from the beasts. And when fail to see that reflection we fail to recognize our own humanity.
18 years ago I was once a 21 year old kid. Bright-eyed and excited and nervous and ready to graduate college and take on the world. So innocent. So bursting with life.
People die. But when someone dies, even a stranger from your school, your community or your adopted community you feel it. As if death is suddenly real. Like a neighbor who bought the house next door. His U-haul truck running idle in the driveway. His scythe leaning on the lamppost. And all you can do is stand in the shadow of your front porch, lump in your throat–silent and unnerved.
And when you hear about their death, that feeling of hurt in your chest, that hammer to your heart, when you read the text message is a thumping reminder of your own humanity.
In the tumbles of our own drama we forget about the importance of connectivity. When we lose our connection, our ability to nurture and foster relationships, when we lose our ability to recognize that everyone’s story matters–we lose our humanity.
We forget our connections guide our self-discovery.
We often replace relationships with plastic, battery-operated, ephemeral things. Things that are easy and fast and convenient but things that, in the end, further disconnect us from each other.
As for me, the teacher–making students better readers and writers is simply a byproduct of connection. The fruits of education can only be appreciated when connection is at its core.
Connection allows you to recognize yourself in another. To empathize. To teach. To hurt. To love.
Connection holds the pen of our brief but unique story.
Connection writes the long, loving, heartbreaking story of humanity.
Samantha’s death has ignited the #whatsmyname movement. If you use ride sharing service like Lyft and Uber please ask the driver before getting in the car, “What’s my name?” The driver should know your name.
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