We stood with heads bowed in the district board room as a complete silence settled over the restless shuffling of papers and the half-whispered giggles and conversation from a group of elementary school teachers in the back, taking just a minute of the evening to remember a life cut oh so short.
He graduated from this same district three years ago, joined the marines, and last week died in Afghanistan.
In the silence, I wondered who in this room had known him; which teachers had seen him through his 12 years of public education; which board members had known more than a name presented for graduation; if the two high school boys – student council officers – had watched him pass through those halls such a short time ago.
And the moment of silence ended, and the board president announced an executive session, and we all filed out of the conference room into the lobby, to wait.
The boys slipped further down the hall, far from the elementary teachers who were determined to sound motherly. The elementary and high school principal chatted in the secretary’s office. A radio reporter thumbed through old year books; the teachers giggled and talked of colonoscopies and who among them could star on “What Not to Wear.”
“They want me to drink two liters before it, I don’t even WANT to know what that is in real life,” one woman was saying, and her friends all laughed. A gallon, that’s how much in real life, one told her, but they shouldn’t have told her that so far in advance because now she’ll just worry about it.
I made a list of all the things, big and small, I need to do at the new house; and felt depressed.
An hour later, as I drove back along the winding road, over farmland hills and wooded valleys, strips of a brilliant sunset shone through ragged clouds. The hollows were dark, lined with old trees; the drying cornstalks on the hilltops glowed faintly in the fading light.
And I thought of the marine from a tiny hamlet in these hills, dying so far from home; the community who knew him, who fly their flags still at half-mast for him, honor him on their fire department sign boards; and suddenly the elementary teachers’ chatter sounds infuriatingly inane in my own head; and my long list is beyond trivial.
Because I have life; and love; and hope for a future. He, younger than I, did too; until last week.
Let’s make the passing minutes count.