Last September, someone posted to the HHS Journalism Twitter account, and the tweet haunts me. The entire community was reeling from a second tragic student death within a year. The tweet read, “Two students at your school have committed suicide, please tell me you’re gonna address this”.
The HHS yearbook; the HHS online student newspaper, the General Journal, and the HHS Journalism Twitter account are student-generated. I am the journalism teacher, the yearbook adviser, and the keeper of the Twitter account. My students were as stunned and saddened as everyone else, and many teachers—myself included—shared those feelings. In almost three decades of teaching high school, I’d never lost an enrolled student to suicide, and my journalism students, as well, were totally unprepared for the level of confusion and grief left in the wake of these irreplaceable losses.
We opted not to write any opinion pieces, and we didn’t feel qualified to offer advice. We posted photographs and condolences in both the 2016 yearbook and in the online paper.
Next week at HHS is dubbed “UNFINISHED,” and each day the campus will strive not only to recognize the need to be conscious of troubled students among us, but we will also investigate ways to be more helpful, more available. We will consciously experiment with reminiscing and with expressing gratitude for this crazybeautiful thing called life. Thankfully, we’re new to this. And, sadly, it is something that we can no longer ignore.
So to the sad/angry/confused person who reached out to us last semester, please know that we’re hurting, too; we just didn’t know how to proceed. Personally, I want this to be a step in the right direction. That’s why I want to tell you that, although this sort of tragedy is new to me as a teacher, it is not new to me as a human being.
I was an adult when I faced the specter of suicide for the first and (to date) only time. I do not wish to drift into TMI territory with details, but suffice it to say that I came to a place of seemingly unmitigated despair, and I sincerely didn’t want to continue the journey. Spoiler alert: I’m still here. I turned 60 a couple of weeks ago, and I am so glad that my story remains unfinished. I’m counting on at least another 20-30 years; I have so many things I’ve yet to do, so many people I’ve yet to meet, and so many places I’ve yet to visit!
Enough of that! Bottom line? There’s an old gospel song I love that reads, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” and I believe there is truth in that. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Take advantage of the love of family and friends that you have, but more than anything, remember that when you get way down, you have to look up. Many years ago a teacher told me and my classmates that when caught in a whirlwind of confusion, do as a Bedouin does when crossing a desert by camel and suddenly caught in a blinding sandstorm: hunker down, cover up, and don’t make any decisions or movements until the storm passes. And they always pass.
And the title of this article? The semicolon has long been my favorite punctuation mark. It is so elegant when judiciously used. When you just can’t bring yourself to end a complete sentence before going on to the next one—even if you haven’t composed that second sentence—use the semicolon to pause, think, and then add to your unfinished potential sentence another complete and independent clause. The symbolism is both simple and breathtaking; your life—your future—is unfinished … and waiting for you to add to it.