She was the third student who had asked me about the recent passing.
“Yes, it’s true.”
Ms. Waldman and I shared the last class she ever taught before she had to go away for a while. We had an auspicious beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, me with the cart I called a portable classroom and her with the booming voice that shook our shared room. She already had a reputation in the school for gravitating towards the tough kids, and I already had a reputation of patience and care for students, a ying and yang for this class. We would sync up our EnGrade accounts so our students wouldn’t have an excuse for not logging in to check their grades. I’d write on the SmartBoard with my dry erase markers, and forgot to erase it until she came in with her annoyed faces. We would riff about our kids nonstop but always ended with smiles on our faces. The third colleague in this situation helped make some otherwise tough situations in the beginning of the school year work well.
Alas, the entire time, I acted like everything was “normal.” For the kids. For my burgeoning family. For myself.
When she left and Skyped in with the kids, I didn’t want to participate because she would never Skype with her students; she should be in the classroom. When people said she only had a month to live in November / December, I shook my head and said, “She’s not done.” When she came back for a few visits in May / June, I embraced her, thinking, “I don’t want to believe in this too much.”
Much of that came from my own fury. When you put two passionate (and opinionated) people in the same room, disagreements will occur. Longstanding racial discussions on Facebook, tit-for-tats about who talked more (the kids know she did), and frustrations that we couldn’t get our inquiry team up and running without her (who honestly cares about inquiry teams?) became fodder for things that annoyed me about her for the last seven years of knowing her.
She smoked too much. I wasn’t very neat (read: messy as hell). She was English / Language Arts. I was Math. She got along with people I didn’t. Most of this didn’t matter in the long run because she mattered to me the way she mattered to anyone who ever got to know her for as long as I did. Or my fiancee did. Or some of my other friends did.
One of her (actual) best friends and someone I consider a sister said something to me today on the way back from the funeral: don’t treat someone in death the way you wouldn’t have treated them in life. Because some people use the occasion of death as a catharsis for their own sins, as if someone going through their trials opens the opportunity for another’s contrition.
It’s wrong. Her passing is a moment to celebrate her life, the one she constantly fought to keep against the most daunting odds.
When her students first heard of her imminent passing in November / December, I chose not to say much because the moment didn’t belong to me. The moment mattered more to the students who knew they only had two people left in the school to rely on through this transition (me and the collaborative team teacher who taught ELA with Waldman). When I got the rush of texts last night to confirm Ms. Waldman’s death, I realized just how much she prioritized her classroom. She stayed alive in the hopes that she could come back to these kids, now graduated. The least I could do is help those students find peace that she’s moved on to a better classroom.
Shalom, shalom. I know you hated “rest in peace,” Waldman. More accurately, you hated rest. Thank you.
Jose, who wore a yarmulke for the first time in his life today. She would have been proud …
p.s. “Hebrew words go beyond their spoken pronunciation. Each Hebrew word conveys feeling, intent and emotion. Shalom is more then just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.” – Source