Coming of Age

If you have any high school kids, you probably know (or maybe it is just English teachers who know) that they read coming of age novels. Initiation novels. Why? Because that’s the stage of life they are in. Sometimes it is easier to read about someone who has the same problems as you do than it is to talk about your own. Sometimes the distance helps the kids work things out.

Anyway. The sophomores just got done reading A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles. In this book the narrator, Gene, matures through the death of his best friend, Phineas.  Gene didn’t figure out how much Phineas really meant to him until his friend had died.

I was not in school yesterday, and this morning, when I got out of my car, the sophomore English teacher greeted me with,”Did you hear about our tragedy?”

Such words uttered in a high school setting always make my stomach sink. I had not. One of the kids in the sophomore class had committed suicide. The Shrek Kid. Now the Shrek Kid had sort of made everyone miserable last year, but this year I had thought he was a little better. What do I know? His class is full of boys who give their teacher a run for his money. He was no different in that respect than any of the others. But his obituary states that he was a Christian.

Some of the boys in his class got permission to go to this boy’s house this morning and visit with his parents. The visit really threw them. Several of them came back to school and called their parents to take them home. The others talked. They talked about their classmate’s mom and how all she could do was cry. They talked about how everyone there cried, even the assistant principal who drove them there. They talked about how the grieving mom asked them, her son’s friends, to be there for him now. “I don’t care what’s going around your school,” she said. “He did it because he was scared. Tell them that.”

Her statement really speaks to me because of an experience I had when I was fifteen. We were going to have a class party, and one of our classmates didn’t show. He was a really quiet boy, and everyone just moaned and said it was just like him not to show. To ruin our party.

He was dead. By his own hand.

I was in the class with people of all ages, and a few of us got together to go the funeral home. It was my first experience with someone my own age dying. Donald was Catholic, and he had a black rosary wrapped around his hands. When my classmates and I got to the funeral home, his mother came up to us and said, “He didn’t leave a note. Do you know why he did it?”

We didn’t. We all were aware, though, that we had not been as nice to Donald as we could have been.

I asked the youth pastor at my church later on about Donald. I was worried, you see, that he hadn’t gone to heaven. Worried that he had made that one mistake out of all the mistakes teenagers can make that can never be made right.

This is what my youth pastor told me: “It’s not up to you to judge. Only God knew the attitude of Donald’s heart when he took his own life, and it is God who decided where he ended up.”

As a fifteen-year-old that really comforted me. I understood then that suicide was about pain, but I don’t think I understood the attitude of the heart thing all that well. I think Christians do commit suicide because sometimes Christians, like non-Christians, hurt. And sometimes their thinking gets mixed up. So when the Shrek Kid’s mom said he had taken his life because he was scared, I understood. And I think that his friends sort of did, too.

Our school handled things well, I think. They had a minister there to talk to any of the kids who needed it. Of course, all many of them can think about now is the viewing, which will be open casket. A freshman died earlier this fall. One of the seniors had an accident and is paralyzed. Knowing that things like that happen to people your age is a lot to think about when you are a sophomore in high school.

So, like in A SEPARATE PEACE, the death of their classmate may, for these kids, be their “moment in history,” the one place in their young lives at least, where things changed. Hopefully, the change will be for the better. Hopefully, they will learn that there are other alternatives to pain. Or fear. That there are people there to help them. That they can help each other. I hope they figure out that people make mistakes and that suicide is the only one that you can’t learn from. I am proud of them for going to comfort the family. And they are in my prayers.

As is the Shrek Kid’s family. I hope you will take a moment and say a prayer for them, too. I cannot tell you his real name.

But if you pray for the Shrek Kid’s family, God will know who you mean.

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4 Responses to “Coming of Age”


  1. 1 writeathome November 3, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    It’s so sad reading about teenagers that committ suicide. I once contemplated it before I knew the Lord. I remember taking a knife out of a drawer and wanting to stab myself, but I did have a fear that if I died I would go to hell, and at the time, that stopped me from doing the unthinkable. About a year and a half from that time was when I was baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Ghost. God changed my life and took away my despair. I will pray for the family of this boy.

  2. 2 Becky November 3, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you, Carol. The whole thing just keeps getting sadder. It appears that there was internet bullying involved. It is a comfort to know that prayer is going up to cover this situation.

  3. 3 iluv2prshim November 4, 2006 at 2:03 am

    Becky, Please let the Shrek Kid’s family know they are being prayed for earnestly. I pray for God to wrap them in arms of comfort and to cover them with His love.
    Sincerely,
    Ronda

  4. 4 Becky November 4, 2006 at 7:42 am

    I will, Ronda. Thank you so much.


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