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Notes on Grief

This week, I’m taking a break from talking about budgeting. Since my heart has been heavy about Uvalde, I thought it would be better to address the national mood.

“Grief,” the Danish pastor said standing in front of my mother’s shiny white casket, “is nothing more than homeless love.”

My half-brother and I matched eyes, in clear awe of this brilliance.

Grief is homeless love, I repeated in my head in that 14th-century church.

Grief is homeless love, I reiterated when I suffered in the depths of insomnia for the next few months.

Grief is homeless love.

Grief, in my mind, was dressed in rags, knocking on Danish doors at one or two o’clock in the morning, wondering if there was a place to stay. Grief was cold, listless, alone. He’d crumple on cobblestones, uncertain if he’d ever eat again. Grief was withered and frail with undercurrents of anger. Grief was old and lost.

Grief just wanted to be held.

Grief felt so appropriate for the pent-up, heavy emotions I felt whenever I thought of her. He was displaced energy, a darkness contained.

And grief came back this week when I saw the images of the little brown faces lost and the 96-point font from the news site on my laptop screaming at me.

If we didn’t know any of the victims personally, why was he back for all of us?

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a Los Angeles private school, proctoring a mock ACT on a Saturday morning.

Three-quarters of the way through the Science section, there was a disturbance outside of the doors. A vagrant was cursing, and a muffled security guard tried to get him back out onto the street.

I met eyes with my students, uncertain of what to do next.

“Lock the door, please?” a young Latina asked me. She seemed so confident, as though she had been rehearsed.

“Oh yeah,” I stumbled, “of course,” and I followed her directions.

Another student locked the second door at the back of the room and unfurled the black, felt-like fabric on the rectangular window. On my window, I noticed that the white sewn-in label advertised how the material was intended to be used as a fire-retardant.

But we all knew its true purpose: to mask huddled bodies inside from a crazed, active shooter.

When the exam was done, I texted the other proctors to see if the coast was clear. The vagrant had been escorted away, and we were free to let the kids go.

As I straightened the chairs, cleared away any snack debris, and gently re-furled the fabric, I felt

that pent-up heaviness had returned, the same one that I - and most of the adult nation - felt this week.

Grief had returned because the America of our youth–the one that didn’t have felt on the windows or confident protocols–is gone. The youth of Gen-X, the youth even of Millenials.

Perhaps every generation believes that, but the current youth of Gen-Z seems so much more grim.

I’m thankful that these kids knew what to do, but they shouldn’t have to.

Schools, especially elementary ones, should be safe and fun - places of learning, growth, and happiness found in Crayola, multiplication tables, and spelling sets.

They shouldn’t be homes for grief.

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