This is a whole new kind of feeling for me.
I’m hesitant to write it here, because it’s a lot for me to share, but on the other hand, it’s a worthwhile story. My friend said today that Matt had the strength and courage to do something that was worth a good chapter in anyone’s biography. And I’m inclined to agree.
I’m also hesitant to share because my whole blogging conflict is that people are not going to want to know all of this about me. And they’re not going to want the sad stuff because it’s…just a bummer. You don't have to read if you don't want to. That being said, I am swirling with sadness about Matt, but I don’t feel like I have a right to be sadder than other people. So many people were so much closer to him than I, but he got right down in my heart in a way that not everyone does. I can't imagine how his parents feel, his brother and sisters, the friends who walked down the graduation aisle with him just a couple of months ago.
I have been a teacher for a long time. And long before I became a teacher, I had wanted to be one. As a kid, on the last day of school when the teacher was cleaning out the classroom, giving out the half-used workbooks and the soon-to-be-discarded out of date textbooks, I was first in line. And I went home for summer vacation with my arms full, knowing that everyone thought I was a dork for taking all that crap. But alone all summer, I finished each and every notebook page, and every single spelling lesson in a spiral notebook. I was the teacher and the student in that little game. Both.
And here’s what’s funny…that’s exactly what my career has been like. I’ve taught kids things, yes. I’ve gotten them excited about learning, some of them. And I’ve given them all a moment of feeling like the smartest kid in the room, because if they can do it there, in the sixth grade classroom, they can do it anywhere – in the college interview, in the boardroom, in classrooms of their own. Whatever they become. I’ve taught them some skills and some concepts to tuck away for worthy future use.
But, when I think of what they’ve given me, what I've learned from so many of them, I feel unworthy of this job, and so determined to keep on working, keep on striving to get kids to look inside and find the best of themselves, or even the first glimmers of it. That’s what happened with Matt. When he was my student. MY student. And yes, he belonged to many other people, and others worked harder than I did to get him ready for the challenge he undertook, but I know that he trusted me enough to let me convince him he could do it, that he could make us all proud, save the experience for everyone. Yes, we had that much faith in him. Yes, we believed and supported and cheered along with everyone in that brand new shiny auditorium. For that one week of his life, I was the Captain of Team Matt. I am so humbled by that now. And I was humbled then, actually, if you look back on what I wrote at the time. It was the whole "vessel" thing. Right place, right time, ready to listen.
It might seem like it was just a little school play. No big deal. We’re not trying to make O-rings for the Space Shuttle, as my mom would day. But in the grand scheme of the life of a high school student, it’s a Mountain. It’s a Milestone. I know it was for him. I understand this truth, because it’s exactly how I felt. I lived for my high school play. It is, more than any other single thing, the defining passion of my adolescence. The Chapter Titles of the Kelly Chronicles. I became who I became because of what I did there. In my old musty auditorium, where I fell in love and felt worthy and learned friendship and had a lifetime-worth of fire-cracking passions ignited. In the Guild Office. In the UMass SUB. And there is not a significant person in my life, not a single one, who isn’t somehow connected to my theatre experience.
Matt was an amazing person. He had more friends than any other high school kid I ever met. He will forever be a reminder to me of the importance of encouragement and faith. I loved him. I care about all of my students, but I only actually let myself love a few. Everyone in my first class, Dillon and Nicholas and the Amys and Kyle and Stephanie and everyone, but that’s the only time that ever happened. A whole class, I mean..otherwise, it's maybe two or three in a year. The ones who's names you never forget. Sometimes you connect to people, and they leave echos behind, don't you think? In theatre, I think, you have space and sensitivity to allow for that to really enter in. It’s why everyone cries when the show is over. They lament the ending of the Space. The Space is where you feel totally accepted and welcome and understood. Where someone is always waiting to make sure you’re going to show up. Where you have someone to sit next to. Where you can raise your voice, and ring with the person standing next to you. Sometimes in my shows, moreso at this job than at any other, I feel that connection. The show ends and the kids go off and live their lives, and I shift my focus to the ones in front of me, but sometimes, when the curtain comes down and the set has been struck…they echo. Claire, Kenny, Shannon, Alex…but honestly, none more than Matt.
I am so sad today. So, so sad. Seeing what he did when we did Beauty and the Beast can only make me wonder what else he might have accomplished, given the time he should have had. But he was loved. He was loved by a lot of people, and that’s what counts, in the end. I never totally connected to that line in The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard tells the Tinman: "Remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." I always thought it should be the other way around.
I get it now.