This month, my older son Jaxson graduated from high school, and our family is making plans to attend graduation parties for many of his friends. However, there is one friend of Jaxson’s whose party we won’t be going to. To help explain why, I decided share something very personal, a college application essay written by Jaxson about an event that epitomized his transition from youth to adulthood. I think it speaks for itself:
“Just like every other morning, I was sitting in the front row of my English class, facing the teacher, focused on my work with my headphones on. My teacher had granted me permission to “unschool” in her class, basically allowing me to select my own course of study and progress at my own pace. That morning, I was listening to classical music and reading a book on the foundations of morality. All of a sudden, I felt my phone vibrate, popping my bubble of focus. Upon seeing the text was from my good friend Tiger, I was sure my day was going to be a little bit better. Tiger never says anything that isn’t worth hearing, whether it’s only slightly amusing or extremely serious, as it proved to be on this day. Tiger wasn’t asking me if I wanted to go to the record store later. He was asking me if I heard about Andrew.
“No, I hadn’t heard. I asked him what happened. He sent me an article from a news website. It said that a local teenager was killed yesterday in a standoff with the police. For about five seconds, I thought it must be a joke, and was a bit shocked at Tiger making a joke in such poor taste. When I realized that it wasn’t a joke, everything around me changed. Andrew’s death became the rest of my day, the rest of my week, and ultimately impacted the rest of my life.
“Andrew wasn’t one of my best friends, but we were close. We were in a “band” with Tiger and another friend, and Andrew and I would discuss politics every day in a Facebook group he had created for that purpose. In fact, I had been talking to him in the group just hours before he died.
“Andrew was a pacifist. This fact is crucial to the absurdity of his death. He had been drinking and was wandering around the house, yelling and holding a gun, according to the 911 call from his mother. She had also told the dispatcher that he wasn’t going to hurt anybody, but she was worried he might hurt himself. Apparently, the local police thought a suitable response to a drunken sixteen year-old with possible suicidal ideation was to call in the SWAT team. Andrew did not shoot himself. He was shot and killed by a police sniper after breaking a window that was nowhere near any officer.
“Andrew’s death made it clear that I wasn’t a kid anymore. I could no longer look at things through a purely theoretical lens. Before his death, I could have had a philosophical conversation about the merits of using rubber bullets instead of live ammunition when responding to a domestic call involving a minor. But Andrew gave a face to the discussion.
“The tragedy of Andrew’s death also contained the seed of an idea that has shaped my adult views. While I may not have been able to speak to Andrew about the issue that would lead to his demise, I could speak to other people about their issues. I became far more curious about the personal experiences of people than hypothetical debates. That curiosity ultimately led to an interest in feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT issues. Ironically, the loss of my childhood friend may have been the first step in my transition to adulthood.”
Throughout our lives, it’s inevitable to face tragedy. We won’t be attending Andrew’s graduation party this season, because Andrew isn’t graduating, and he’ll forever remain a teenager in our hearts and memories.
When you experience the most difficult circumstances in life, I suggest that you embrace a less obvious component of the Attitude of Gratitude mindset. This mindset is not just about celebrating the positive things in life, but also about seeking value from challenges and even tragedies. It is almost inhuman not to be grief-stricken, confused and even angry in the face of death and loss. But look for the seeds of ideas, the hope and promise of better days, and you will find peace far sooner than if you focus only on what’s been lost.
Until Next Week,
Live Your Dreams!