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Teaching in the face of Tragedy

Teaching in the face of Tragedy

February 14, 2008:

It was supposed to be an ordinary day for Janine. She got up around 6 am, put some coffee on and stared through the kitchen window at the dark, frozen world outside. Her boys were still asleep and her husband Anthony was just waking.

As Janine sipped her coffee, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she thought of the lectures she would be giving today. Her mornings were usually spent this way, thinking about what classes she would be teaching and mentally preparing for what she had to do to get ready for them. She longed for the day when teaching would simply be one fluid motion for her, an almost unconscious action–like how she made coffee each morning without even thinking of it.

After years of schooling to become a professor, she was now adjusting to the transition of learning from the back of the room, to learning at the front. This was the transition from being a student to becoming a professor. Yet even though this transition was hard work, she enjoyed it. She loved the challenge, and she was grateful she could meet those challenges as a Professor at Northern Illinois University.

After sending the boys off to school and kissing Anthony goodbye, subtly reminding him of the fact that it was Valentine’s day and her birthday tomorrow, Janine left for the university’s campus. For Janine, Thursday’s were not a busy day. She had one lecture to deliver in the morning and a few office hours after lunch to assist any students. As she sung one of her favorite Coldplay songs in her head, she entered the building in which the department she taught within was located. Entering her office, she shut the door behind her with her foot and finished singing the song aloud.

After she delivered her lecture and sat in her office for a couple hours, Janine started feeling a little spontaneous–and a bit stir crazy–so she called Anthony and asked him out to lunch. They normally didn’t have lunch together since Anthony taught at another university 30 miles away. But she figured she was worth the drive, and after all this was Valentine’s Day, “the day of love” as some call it. Their conversation during lunch was rather ordinary, some talk about their boys, some talk about work, some talk about the next vacation they were planning.

“I need to get back to work” Janine sighed as they finished the last few bites of their food. And so, just like that, they hugged, they kissed and they parted.

I didn’t hear about the school shooting at Northern Illinois University until I read an email my sister sent our family. It read:

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to send a quick note to let you know that we are OK. You may have seen the shooting at my campus on the news. I am home from school and the boys are with me. I believe a number of students were hurt, so keep them in your prayers.

Love you,

Janine xoxoxox

I sat at the computer desk stunned. Another shooting? At my sister’s school? The same campus I took a walk through with Janine last summer? I visited some online news websites to gather more information about it all, scrolling through the pictures taken just a few hours before: police with guns running to a scene, prayer vigils, ambulances, tears, grief, pain, death.

I sat in my room on the floor staring into the glow of my electric heater thinking about it all. Thinking about how I read this school shooting was the fourth in a week in the United States. Thinking about how Janine could have almost been killed, on Valentine’s Day–and the day before her birthday. And then thinking about how there were victims. Those who didn’t happen to be in a safe part of campus like Janine happened to be.

My thoughts whirled. My sister could have been killed. And there were those that had been. I thought of the families of those people who had died. This supposed “day of love” had been turned into something awful for those families. I did as Janine asked and kept them in my prayers.

I don’t believe pat answers are what is really needed at a time like this. What is needed, are people who come along those who mourn to listen to their questions. To listen to their agony. To assist them in any way needed. And to perhaps, silently pray for them. Praying to a God who knows what death feels like. Asking God to come alongside the mourning and start wiping away tears ahead of schedule. Asking God for love in a world filled with senseless hate. Asking God to simply be with us until the day when the old order of things has passed away.

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