This morning, I attended the funeral for a 16-year-old boy who sat in my class when he was in 8th grade. His name is Alex Koser and he was shot and killed by his stepfather last Sunday. I have hardly been able to stop thinking about it since I heard the news. When he was in my class, he was…troubled. He did not pay attention. He did not do his homework. He drew all over his papers and all over himself. He was not very polite or nice to me or anyone else. Those are the kids who tend to get my attention, whether they like it or not. I am drawn to them, won’t leave them alone, sometimes making them hate me, but most of the time making them see that somebody cares about them and wants to know them and their troubled mind. Kids like Alex are the causes of my sleepless nights, the reasons I feel so emotionally and physically exhausted almost every single day. They are also the reason I have been doing this job for almost ten years. During the funeral today, one of the ministers made a point to say that it took him a long time to like Alex, and everyone in the congregation nervously laughed, probably because they could relate. But then he quickly said that once you got Alex to break down his walls, once you got past his tattoos, his mohawk, his piercings, you saw his oh-so-tender heart, and you started loving him. I collapsed when I heard those words because that was exactly what happened with me and Alex in room E109 at Hopewell Middle School. The minister went on to say that too many of us would never have pushed past his tough exterior, instead we would clutch our purses tighter to our sides, avert our eyes, and mumble some comment about Kids These Days. He is right, and you know it. I know it. As the service went on, I kept focusing on the urn on the alter, filled with the ashes of a vivacious teenage boy, and the scripture from Ecclesiastes 3:20 “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” We are all the same.
Tonight, I will get in my car with my boyfriend and two of my best friends and go to Trinity Anglican Mission Church for the Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent, which is the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, celebrating the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead. Tonight’s service will call on its attendees to make sacrifices in their everyday lives as a way to be mindful of the ultimate sacrifice that was made for all people when Jesus was crucified on a cross to save us from eternal separation from God. Most Christians choose to give up something for Lent, and ideally every time you crave that something, you are to be mindful of the ultimate sacrifice given for you and be prayerful and thankful. I have not yet decided what I am going to give up this year. In the past, I have given up Diet Coke, chocolate, meat, and hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock. (That one actually stuck, and I sleep so much better now because of it.) I am hoping that in tonight’s Ash Wednesday service, it will become clear to me what I need to sacrifice.
Now, friends, I issue a challenge to you. Call your grandmother. Call your parents. Call your children, your grandchildren, your cousins. Make a date with your friends and tell them how much they mean to you. Today as I was watching all of those mourning teenagers, wandering around that church, hugging each other, not knowing what to say, and grown boys sobbing on a stage because they miss their best friend, I was reminded of the importance of affection, of kind words, of thoughtfulness, and of the beauty of having people in our lives who love us.
Peace be with you.