Man, I’m losing sound and sight/Of those who can tell me wrong from right/When all things beautiful and bright/Sink in the night
August 10 is a difficult day. Some people remember 9/11, some people remember December 7. I remember August 10. August 10 is a day when some twist of fate demanded the destruction of all I had come to know and expect, demanded the destruction of me.
August 10 is the day we lost our daughter.
I so clearly remember that pain; seeing the ultrasound of our daughter, who had died only hours before, and seeing her in the flesh for the first time twelve hours later. I remember isolation, guilt, and despair. I remember greeting her into the world, and bidding her farewell in the very same breath. I remember when our loss was made real at a funeral home in Nashua, when we received Emma’s earthly remains three days later.
My life goes by in a blur. Every run, every day in class, friends and events and decisions…they are a blur. But August 10 is a day in which I find a perfect and traumatic clarity. It is a day when I am instantly rocketed back to that maternity room to relive it again in a sudden rush. In that moment, I am humbled, saddened, and despondent.
August 10, 2013 was different. It was a day that demanded my absolute resolve. I went to Mount Monadnock to hike, to head up the Pumpelly Trail beginning in Dublin, rising to the peak in a southerly direction over 4.5 long miles. I went to make what might be the most important decision I have ever made.
On August 2, I put in an application at another charter school in north central Massachusetts. At this point, I was desperate not to turn in my application to cash my retirement savings, but I felt I might not have a choice. My wife was paranoid, wondering when we might just lose everything. And then there was my daughter, Meredith, having the time of her life, being a baby, growing strong and sharp and smart, bright eyes in a beautiful face, wonderful words that mean nothing to us but everything to her, and so they mean everything to us. Meredith is the wonderful glue holding us together through an otherwise frightening time. I admit: I applied out of fear. And three hours later, my email blew up and my phone rang. The next day, I had an interview.
I got to the interview meeting people who, once again, knew me as a voice over the phone and a piece of paper. As we began, I noticed something. The questions I was getting weren’t questions: they were invitations to reflect on ‘my career’. Those words got thrown around a lot. ‘In your experience…’ got thrown around a lot, too. It’s like I was a professional, a teacher who had earned his stripes.
To them, I am a professional. It is an amazing feeling.
On my way home, I got a phone call from the principal offering me the job. The salary came in at a woefully low figure, and the school is 40 minutes from my house in New Hampshire. I know that I need to refuse deep in my heart, but I don’t want to. I have never felt like I did in that interview. Never. But I couldn’t see the job being economically feasible for us. We were drowning financially under the costs of our debts and Meredith’s care. How could we have made it work? I refused two days later. And upon my refusal, I got yet another call from the principal, asking me if there was a ‘number’ I was hoping to reach. These folks weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
On Father’s Day a couple of years ago, my friend Tessa wrote that her father had taught her something: the courage to do what is right and to go where called. I don’t know what that calling looks like to everyone else, but I think it looks this way to me: when those who desire, require, or demand the presence of a person will not take ‘no’ for an answer. And that’s what I heard. I just needed time to understand it and accept it.
I hiked Monadnock that day searching for the affirmation that what I would give up by accepting the job, by opting to revive my career and take on an eighth year in the classroom, were things that would not go neglected. The cross country team I coached. The chance to go back to school for a Master’s degree. The chance to keep growing in the role of an online teacher. Will those things fall by the wayside, and perish? I don’t know for sure, but I knew after descending the mountain that day that accepting the job would be right. All of those things could die, but if my family dies, what do I have? I have a life led on paper.
I think what is most hard is knowing that there are things I have let go. I read somewhere that the word ‘sayonara’ does not mean ‘goodbye’, but that it means ‘because it must be so’. (Google says it’s Anne Morrow Lindbergh in North to the Orient, but who knows where she got that from.) Maybe this is so. Maybe this is the way things are meant to be. One more year a teacher, in this place, a home so far away from home.