When Death Comes Too Soon
When Death Comes Too Soon
I teach in a Northern secondary school. A job I’ve done on and off for the last twenty years and still the passion for the job has yet to abate, but yesterday was new to me. After all this time of guiding, nurturing and even healing I encountered a moment when I felt powerless and what is even more frightening speechless.
Let there be no mistake about our young today, they have it tough. The old ‘in my day’ stuff doesn’t wash with me. Young people are under a pressure never encountered before. They are subject to a dizzying amount of complex choices that leave some confused and even downright bewildered.
I wrote of a young student I had taught. She took her own life and one sensed from working with her that the load she carried was getting heavier; yet I did not see the outcome. However, the scene from yesterday was not about mental health or not that of the tortured mind. No, it was about the culture of violence that has reached unprecedented levels in our towns, cities and even villages.
Knife crime appears on the news as a briefly reported crime statistic; giving a quick outline and setting before moving on to the next item, but for those affected or even involved it is a life sentence and one that changes their world forever.
We had been requested to bring our classes to the Assembly Hall. My timetable that day meant I was to encounter the same presentation three times. For some reason I am reminded of Peter’s denial of Christ. He was asked the question three times and each time he denied knowledge of the Messiah. The comparison I draw is that of the politicians and law makers of this Albion. My reason? Knife crime stats are out of control and already double that of last year, which is in turn double that of ten years ago. Answers…I don’t have answers, but expecting the police to deal with everything is unfair. The message yesterday was loud and clear, we ALL have a part to play in the future of society and there is no denying that attitudes have to change.
If I was shocked by anything yesterday it was a simple statistic; 70% of knife crime victims were actually the ones carrying the knife. In fact we were allowed to see cctv footage of an incident in a takeaway late one night. The knife carrier had pulled the knife and threatened a group of young people because one of them was ‘staring at his girlfriend’ and in the melee that spilled onto the pavement the knife owner was fatally stabbed through the heart. Carrying knives for ‘protection’ is a fools paradise, but just for an instant I saw a scene in my mind of two knife brandishers face to face. Each was saying “you put yours down first…” Almost like the chicken and the egg in reverse.
Such situations are sanitized by distance. On the TV or on a slide presentation it is possible to be apart from reality or at least restore one’s self when departing from the images. Yet the final part of the presentation was the most shocking because it was a local lad who died. That shook me and I think it shook my classes too. Yet what shook me the most was not the tragic death of a young teenager who was truly a good person, but the bullying and persecution that persisted all through her school and college years of his younger sister. Her crime? It was the conviction and sentencing of the attacker (who stabbed the victim NINETEEN times with a 13” kitchen knife to twelve years in prison that provoked such vitriolic bile from the friends and family of the murderer. No one seems able to accept blame or be accountable in this particular tragedy. We were not told if the attacker ever showed remorse or repentance. I am tempted to judge and think not, but that would be unfair, even if I had all sides of the story.
If I take anything from the day’s events it is this…I still have a passion to protect and to support the young in my charge. Notice I did not say ‘teach’ for I have no experiences upon which to draw or any rules to enforce. In this I walk with my charges and only their choices will matter in the years to come when I am gone.
God grant us the serenity to accept what we cannot change
But courage to change what we can
With wisdom to know the difference.
For our young.