"well, what do you want to do after high school?"
"i want to go into the marines and become a sniper. where am i going to find a marine sniper to talk to?"
"actually, i just happen to know a marine sniper..."
it seemed a little more than coincidence. on the day my student and i had the above exchange, Z was flying home to texas for a week of liberty before reporting to houston. at this point, Z and i had been getting to know one another through email, but had not officially met. i finally had the opportunity to do so when i joined him and his parents at the feedstore that night. i felt a little silly asking him for a favor when we had only just met, but i ignored the awkwardness and asked him if he wouldn't mind talking to my student about his experiences as a marine sniper. Z graciously agreed.
the next day i gave my student Z's number. later that week, Z told me he spoke with my student and that they had had an honest conversation about life as a marine sniper. i was always so grateful that Z was so willing to help me help my student with his research paper. this particular student graduated with my november seniors.
this afternoon, as i was packing up to leave for the day, this same student popped into my classroom for an unexpected visit. seeing him made me really happy. we talked about what he's been doing since graduation and his plans for the future. when i asked him if he still wanted to go into the marines, he replied with an enthusiastic "yes, ma'am."
i always associated this student with the first time Z and i met, and as we talked this afternoon i had the prompting that i needed to tell him what happened; or rather, that he needed to know what happened. i knew it wasn't going to come out very well, but i took a deep breath and asked my former student if he remembered my friend Z, the one he had talked to about being a marine sniper. i apologized for crying and then proceeded to tell him that this friend of mine passed away two weeks ago. i explained the circumstances in which he died, again apologizing for my tears. i then told him that the reason for me sharing this story was that i wanted him to know two things: first, i think a career in the military is one of the most honorable decisions he could ever make in his life. second, if he does decide to pursue a career in the marines, he will most likely experience trials and challenges that he can't even begin to comprehend - no matter what the challenges, though, he should always, always talk to someone about them. i told him that there are so many people in his life that love him, that want to be there for him, so if he ever finds himself struggling, he should always, always ask for help.
i apologized, for a third time, for my embarrassing display of emotion, and after a hug and comforting words, my former student left.
i sat down at my desk and felt an odd combination of sorrow and comfort. sorrow that Z is no longer here. comfort that maybe, just maybe, his story can save another from the same fate.
my experience this afternoon brought a lot of emotions and thoughts full circle. i know i still have a long ways to go, but it was a start.