Monday, January 13, 2014

Dear Best-of-all-Warriors

The following is a letter written on December 17th, 2013, to her fifth period English Lit class by Marlys Ferrill, a Language Arts teacher in my building. With her permission, I share it with you.

                                                                                                                        December 17, 2013
Dear Best-of-all-Warriors,

Last Friday, December 13th, 2013 we became a family.  We were not simply a group of people taking English Literature from Mrs. Ferrill fifth period, but a family facing a common threat to our very existence...and a family huddling together in fear and support, not knowing if life would ever be the same again.

And now we know; life will never be the same again.  As a mother, I am biologically wired to protect my children at all costs.  I want to save my children from the ugly realities of the world, and I want my children to feel safe, secure, and loved.  My son Jeff is now 33 years old and my daughter Meredith is 31.  Although I have kept them safe from physical harm, I have not been able to shield them completely from disappointment, sadness, anxiety, loss, anger, or fear.  And so, when I looked at your faces last Friday and saw the loss of innocence cloud your eyes with the knowledge that bad things do happen to good people, I began to shake (and so did my stupid Jingle Bell earrings), knowing I would not be able to save you from harm if suddenly the classroom door burst open.

But then something magical happened.  You saved me.  Your quiet, determined faces remained strong.  Those of you standing toughened your posture, ready to pounce.  Some of you sat quietly praying, and I felt a spiritual power calming my pounding heart.  Others checked phones and began texting.  Protocol says students shouldn’t use their phones during a lock-down, but your connection to the outside world was reassuring.  Even though we didn’t hear sirens, we knew the world was watching our school and sending help.  When we finally evacuated, you moved quickly, methodically, following instructions exactly.  

I did not have the chance to talk with all of you after we ran across University Boulevard and congregated in front of Burger King.  But I want each of you to know your actions, your attitude, and your trust in me were heroic.  We began this semester reading “Invictus,” and you have proven you possess an “unconquerable soul.”  You have become “the man in the water.”   Your “essential, human nature...rose to the occasion,” and you proved to me that “no man is ordinary.”

I’m so sorry we did not have the chance to finish reading Hamlet together so you could see how Hamlet regains his heroic stature after suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”  We started the play watching Hamlet trying to discover “who’s there” and whether “to be or not to be.”  In the final scene of the play Hamlet agrees to the fencing match with Laertes.  Horatio tells him, “You will lose this wager,” but Hamlet replies, “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now tis not to come.  If it be not to come, it will be now.  The readiness is all...let be.”  Hamlet finally understands he can not control how long he will live or when he will die.  He must simply be ready for death when it comes and “let be.”  In Joseph Campbell’s words, “Conquering the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy.”  

I also want you to know Shakespeare ultimately believed the Honor Code of Revenge was barbaric.  Laertes is a negative foil to Hamlet because his hot-headed nature precipitates the tragic ending in which both men die.  To Hamlet’s credit, he does not want to avenge his father’s death, and early in the play he says, “O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.”  Revenge never ends conflict.  As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind.”

The mother side of me wishes you did not have to experience the horror and devastation revenge causes.  The teacher side of me is eager to share with you literary works that will strengthen your soul against the “slings and arrows” of life.  For those of you who will remain a part of our English Literature family next semester, I can’t wait to share with you powerful literary masterpieces that will give you words that help you define your feelings.  For those of you who do not remain in this class second semester, you are still family and part of the warrior spirit that reminds us to take care of one another.

Thank you for reminding me why it is an honor to be your teacher; and may each of you enjoy a blessed winter break and a happy new year!

Love, Mother Ferrill

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