Yesterday I returned to the elementary school, on the far side of town, where I am chaplain. I knew when I accepted the position that I was going into a tough school in a tough neighborhood. Crime rates are ridiculously high. I told you about the shooting as I pulled into my parking spot one morning, just across the street from the kindergartners joyfully playing on their playground. I know the school sits on some mean streets, but the children bring laughter and light, and I try to sweep away any hard facts and just enjoy the children each day I’m there.
This week, returning from the holiday break, I thought would be a return to routine. I would put on the uniform, pack my bag of stories, and stickers, and a bit of magic, and show up at the school. I learned, upon arrival at the office, that the office manager was not there because her 53-year old husband suddenly dropped dead last week.
Today one of the first grade teachers informed me that a student I had been keeping an eye on and for whom I was concerned had not returned after vacation and all she knew was that the child was hospitalized. The teacher thought it might be for a tonsillectomy, but was unsure as she had not had time to investigate. She has two new students in her class whom she is trying to acquaint herself as well as get them acclimated to a new school.
Another first grade teacher informed me that the mother of one of her students had been murdered on New Year’s Eve, stabbed to death when she showed up for a Craig’s List date. The student was chosen to be my “secretary” today, and I gave her a hug as I left. I didn’t know what else to do.
When I checked out at the office I learned another first grader, a boy, had lost his father last week and had been out of school. The funeral is tomorrow. The man, recently released from prison, was beaten to death.
I pray these tragedies are not part of my routine. I listed them on the report I file each week with the police office. Hard facts that have to be stated, but tragic, nontheless. Next week I will put on the uniform, pack up my bag of tricks, and show up. Like routine.