Never Give Up
We had just settled into our leadership team meeting when I saw our secretary’s eyes peering in through the narrow window in the closed classroom door. I could tell from the strained look on her face that something was wrong. I rose from my seat and made my way out into the hallway. I looked at her. She was visibly shaken. “I am so sorry to interrupt your meeting,” she said. “But Daniel just called, and he said that you need to check your email immediately. He said it’s urgent.”
I made my way across the hall and entered my office. In addition to teaching a creative writing class, I am also the assistant principal; and since the principal was out today, it was my responsibility to address whatever crisis arose. I took a seat at my desk then clicked on my email. In my inbox was an email from Daniel. The subject line read: “Potential Student Situation – Web Activity Report”. I frowned, then hastily opened the report. My curious eyes fell on the student search. It read, “how to kill myself.”
Somewhere deep inside of me, a thought formed. This is serious, deadly serious. I turned to Angie. Go get the supervisor. She nodded, then hurried from the room. A few seconds later, I heard the sound of high heels on the hard floor, quickly moving toward my office. I looked up. Ms. Joyce, our school supervisor entered the room. She had been across the hall with the leadership team.
“What’s wrong?” I heard her ask. I turned my head and looked directly at her. Her eyes were wide, and her face was serious. I directed her attention to the email. She looked at the message. In my mind, I read along with her. When she finished reading, I heard her sigh. Then I heard her say, “My Lord.” Then, she excused herself and stepped out of the room to call Daniel. When she returned, she said that he told her that the student in question had searched the same topic several times over the last couple of weeks and that he had flagged several similar searches from other students throughout the district. All of them were researching suicide. Shock swept me. I knew this child. He was quiet and polite, and he didn’t seem to have a worry in the world. I called his parents and asked them to come to the school. After I hung up the phone, I leaned back against the softness of the chair. I was glad that we had caught this in time, but still, I wondered what it was all about. What could be so bad that this child felt that ending his life was the only way out?
Confusion made me ponder the question. Then suddenly, as if from some deep, dark, distant place, there flashed in my mind an image of a story I had read long ago. It was the story of a long-distance swimmer who was attempting to be the first woman to swim the 26 miles route from Catalina Island to the California shoreline. She had been in the water for 15 hours when a thick fog set in. Suddenly, darkness was all around her. She could not see. Then, inside her mind, doubt seeped in. Fear began to speak to her. “You can’t make it,” it said. “It’s too far.”
In the darkness, she searched her mind trying to calculate the distance. How far had she gone? How much further did she have to go? To her questions, her mind offered no answers. She could not concentrate. The water was cold, her arms were tired, her legs were weary, her lungs were burning, and she could not breathe. Suddenly, her mind told her it was time to give up. It told her she could go no farther, and in that moment of weakness, she lost sight of all hope, and she gave up on herself, and she gave up on her dreams.
Then, bowing to defeat, she turned back toward the boat and asked her mother to pull her from the water. And, as she sat in the boat, sad and dejected, sunlight broke through, and the fog cleared, and her eyes could see that which her mind could not. She had stopped swimming just one mile short of her destination. Two months later, she tried again. And as before, the same thick fog set in. But this time, she succeeded in reaching the coastline. When asked how she had made it this time when she had failed before, she said that as she swam, she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind with the understanding that she would find her success on the other side of darkness.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that sometimes our students get overwhelmed like that swimmer. Their mind tells them that they can’t make it. It tells them that life is too tough. It tells them that the road is too rocky. It tells them that the way is too long. It tells them that the path is too dark. But if we are going to save our children, we must teach them to take control of the mind that is trying to destroy their hope and steal their dreams. We must teach them to not only believe in themselves but also to keep hope alive. We must teach them that whenever they find themselves in the fog, that like that swimmer, they too can find success on the other side of darkness if they simply remember that fear is their enemy, courage is their friend, greatness is their destiny, if they fight on until the end. NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP!
Holly Ridge Elementary School
School website: https://richland.k12.la.us/hres/
Twitter: Ernest Hill @ehillbooks