HUNTER IN THE SKY
It is with a heavy heart I write this. I lost a student to suicide about a year & a half ago. She was a beautiful and smart girl, always smiling and helping out her classmates; always waving to all of her teachers in the hallways. At one point during the school year, after her grade had rotated out of my class (I’m a rotational Industrial Tech teacher), I started receiving this feeling that their was something more to her smile in the hallway. I began to look for an opportunity to talk with her.
I knew what I wanted to say, “How’s everything going? I just want to chat with you for a second. You’re a student who is always giving a lot to everyone around you, and you’re always smiling. I just want to be sure that smile is genuine. Sometimes when we give so much of ourselves to others, it can be a little stressful, so recognizing you’re someone who is so awesome to others all the time, I just want to ask if everything is truly ok & if everything is alright.”
Recognizing that conversation might be a bit heavy from a male teacher to an eighth grade girl, I wanted to be sure of it. Therefore, I waited for a day where she had her head down or chose to walk by herself in the hallway. That day never came. It was the last day before spring break. After school, I skipped my car service appointment and instead, attended the wrestling meet in the gym. I chatted with some coaches as I watched the wrestlers compete. During this time, I noticed her across the gym in the hallway. She was just kind of ‘gazing’ into the gym, watching everything, and in that moment, I thought, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen her by herself. Should I pull her aside and talk to her?” The band had just gotten back from a performance (she was in band), so there were other kids in the hallway, but for that brief second, it was as if she was just there staring into the gym by herself. I talked myself out of it thinking, “That might make her feel weird if I pull her aside right now.” I decided to continue to be patient. I would find a moment to talk with her after break if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Two days later, I received a phone call from the school counselor telling me that she had committed suicide. I cannot even describe the deep emotion I have about this. It’s an anchor I will carry for the rest of my life. No matter what I do, no matter how happy I am for things happening in life, this event will always forever be somewhere in the shadow of whatever’s going on. The question ingrained in the back of my mind, “What if?”
So this is part of the reason I tell this story: If you are someone who feels a compelling calling, even if you don’t fully understand it, take a risk and seek it out. Please do not hesitate like I did or wait for the perfect moment, because the right timing might not ever happen. I’m hoping by sharing this story, I will encourage someone else to act on their intuition to help another in need. It takes courage. It’s takes bravery. You can do it.
At the end of the school year, I continued to struggle & cope. “Why did I have that feeling in the first place? Why didn’t I say anything to her? Did I fail to answer God’s call?” (I believe in God. If you are reading this & you don’t, this part of the story is not meant to convert you or force any of my beliefs on anyone. This is just my story through my eyes.) It was the third to last day of school and I just got done learning about another student who struggled with suicidal thoughts. I never saw this student, not even in the hallways. As I walked back to my classroom, I prayed, “God, if you would like me to talk with this student, I will be right here in this hallway tomorrow, and if I see her, even if she’s surrounded by friends, I will pull her aside & talk with her.”
It was now the second to last day of school and the grade schedules were completely scrambled due to awards and special events going on. I went to the seventh grade award assembly in the gym and then decided to help out afterwards with cleaning up. All the students were back in their classrooms. There was no passing period when I decided to make my way back to my classroom (I had a plan period). In fact, there was no one else in the hallways. I walked back staring at the tiles on the floor, and right when I reached the area where I had previously prayed the day before, I stopped & looked up. There, coming down the hallway, was one student walking directly towards me. It was the student I had prayed about. She walked right by and said, “Hi, Mr. Chandler.” I responded with a wave & a smile. Then I realized, “This is it. I need to talk with her.” So I politely asked if I could just briefly speak with her about something.
It ended up being a really positive talk. I was finally able to have ‘that’ conversation. [Fortunately, there were teachers in the building devoted to being this student’s support system (I was not actually one of them) and I’m happy to report she’s doing well now.]
However, it wasn’t until after she walked away, I realized that the conversation was not for her. It was for me. Through my lens, it was God’s way of saying, “Ryan, I got this. I knew you were watching her (the student who took her own life) & if I wanted her to speak with you, I could have created that moment you were looking for, just as I did now with this student.”
Does this interpretation of what happened help me sleep at night? “Maybe.” I’m certainly thankful for the moment I view as a sign from God. However, I still believe it’s important to act on your gut feeling, especially when it can help someone else. To be honest, I’m a little afraid of missing it again. I hope this story empowers someone to act who needs to, and provides a small dash of faith to someone who’s looking for it. Below is an audio recording of a song I wrote about the student I lost to suicide. I just want to share the story. Thanks for reading & listening.